The Numbers Game

Some advertisers, in a well-intentioned attempt to make the proper advertising decisions for their businesses, will use, or ask for, audience ratings information. The most-accepted source for such information is a company called Nielsen, which surveys every county in the U.S.

We do not invest in or use Nielsen ratings. In large markets, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago—even Kansas City and Peoria — Nielsen ratings are a useful tool for determining the best place to put ad dollars … but not in smaller markets like ours.

Here’s why:

  • The information is at least a year old. After survey data is processed, reports are released for the largest markets first, on down to the smallest. The smallest markets have to wait a year or more to get ratings. So if you see a “2018” survey, it is based on data gathered in 2017.
  • The numbers are not statistically valid. Even in the largest markets, Nielsen’s own disclaimers say that the numbers could be off by 30% or more. In small markets, the numbers could be off by 150%.
  • Break-downs are even worse. When ratings data are broken down into smaller pieces (age groups and/or time periods), the accuracy goes from bad to worse.
  • The ratings are age- and gender-biased. Some groups are more willing to fill out surveys than others. If a particular group sends back fewer surveys than Arbitron expects, that group is “over-sampled,” which means fewer people have to represent all the people in that group.
  • The methodology is flawed. Survey participants are asked to carry a diary with them at all times and immediately record the information whenever they’re within hearing distance of a radio. In actual fact, most people fill out their diaries at the end of the day, or more likely, just before they have to send them back. What’s worse, all the diaries in a family are usually filled out by the female head of household.

We feel your pain. We know it’s difficult making the right advertising decisions with all the choices available to you. It’s important to find a good match-up between a station’s audience and your customers and prospects. (To cite an obvious example, a station playing Rap music is not the best place to advertise elder care.) It’s also important to work with a station that has your interests at heart.