When ratings lie, cheat, and break your heart.


It’s a very reasonable question.  The answer was heartbreaking.

Dear (major ratings company),

Does (major ratings company) have any data to show a ratio of increased results when moving to an outlet with a larger audience?
I.E., if we increase reach by 10%, will the advertiser see a 10% increase in return on investment? Less? More?  I am trying to help them justify the added cost.

Thank you,


Dear Mr. Molson,

No we really don’t.


(Major Ratings Company, rhymes with Schmielsen)


The foundation of any ratings company is to demonstrate audience size, demographics, and other statistical data. One would reasonably presume that advertising on the station with the larger numbers would result in… well, larger numbers. Ratings companies sell these statistics to media on the premise the outlet with the larger numbers would earn… larger numbers.

It appears the foundation is a lie. There is no way to demonstrate that bigger ratings equal bigger results. Let me say that again… the ratings company has no data to show that larger audience size will garner better results for an advertiser.
Forgive my naiveté… what is the purpose of advertising again?

Do not think for a moment I’m suggesting measuring listeners (viewers, readers, etc) is useless or foolish. It is not. In fact, it’s a crucial tool to give both a media outlet and an advertiser a frame of reference. But it is just that:  A frame of reference.

The ever eloquent David Ogilvy said people “…are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post, for support rather than for illumination.”

Naturally, a business would like to get in front of as many buyers as possible, but at what cost? In larger markets a couple ratings points might be the difference between 650,000 people and 480,000 people. In smaller markets, it might be the difference of 14,000 people or 11,000 people.

Should an advertiser actually care if 78 customers came from the biggest station or the kinda biggest station? And how many can fit in the store, anyhow?

The key is this:  Repeat your message to the SAME person as often as possible.  You are trying to get a customer to remember you.  Hence, saying the same thing five times to one person is far better than saying something just once to five people.

charts and monkeysSchmielsen hates it when I point that out.

P.S. to my media friends:   When the sun goes down your advertisers judge you on whether you made them money. Your audience judges you on whether you entertained, informed, and served them more than they expected. Neither of those things are measured in the ratings. They can’t be.

Ratings are not mother’s milk. In fact, she’s not your mother at all.

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