The Math in Media: TV Edition
There are many ways to measure various forms of media. To help my clients achieve the best ROI from their media campaigns, I look to the math behind the media to ensure their marketing objectives and target audiences are reached. With each form of media, there are specific numbers to understand and focus on that truly make a difference. Not only for deciding which mediums to use, but how much to invest in them. While looking at the numbers is important, there are other factors to consider as well.
What most media buyers focus on:
The most common way that a media agency coordinates a television buy for their clients is through the evaluation of ratings and reach and frequency. Clients provide target audience information and the agency will use automated platforms to help them build and “optimize” a plan based on GRP’s or Impressions.
Rating points are how viewership is measured for either a television program itself or specified time period. They are calculated against a demographic such as U.S. households, Adults 18-49, Women 35-54 etc. Each rating point represents 1% of a potential demographic market audience. A show that obtains a rating of 8.0 points is being viewed by approximately 8% percent of that targeted demographic market during that time period.
In the U.S., the term “TV ratings” usually makes people think of Nielsen because Nielsen Media Research has become the standard national measurement service for the television industry in the United States and Canada. Nielson measures the number of people watching television shows and makes its data available to the television and cable networks, advertisers, and the media.
Nielsen uses a technique called statistical sampling to rate shows. This technique is very much like what pollsters will use to try to predict the outcome of political elections. Nielsen creates a randomly selected sample audience and then counts how many in that audience view each program. They will pull data from the sample and estimate the number of viewers in the measured population watching a show. While these numbers may be as close to “realistic” as a television audience measurement can get, they don’t tell the whole story or shed light on other factors that are important to the advertiser. The information is based on a very small number of households that they then assume represent the viewing habits of all households.
In addition to ratings, buyers also put a large focus on the overall reach and frequency for the campaign through Gross Rating Points. GRPs are calculated by multiplying the audience reached by the frequency of its exposure to the message during a given time period. The reach and frequency numbers help to predict the percentage of the target demographic that will have an opportunity to view an ad and the number of times they will have that opportunity throughout the campaign.
Other factors that should be considered:
While ratings, GRP’s and reach and frequency are important sources of information to consider when buying TV ad space, they simply aren’t reliable enough to be the only determining factor because often their numbers don’t just add up. After working with advertisers for more than 25 years, I have found other areas to include when coordinating and strategizing a TV buy.
Often, but not always a general rating number maybe based on general average national viewing numbers. For a mid-market or regional company, the rating numbers may not be an accurate representation of their geographic area of focus. What people are watching in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, may differ greatly from what people are watching in Akron Ohio regardless of what the overall ratings say. This is just another reason why selecting programming based solely on rating points may not be a good idea. Look at the factors of the audience in that market. Things like their education levels, employment, income levels, past times and hobbies and outdoor and indoor activities popular in that region.
Another area to consider is the potential to reach important secondary audiences. This can make a huge difference when coordinating the placement of a TV commercial for an advertiser. If a media buyer’s sole focus is strictly on the primary target ratings, they could be missing out on other viewing options that appeal to a large secondary market audience as well.
And while the coordination of a television media plan and targeting the right audiences with the selection of shows and networks is extremely important, the follow up of the campaign is just as important, if not more so. No matter how well a plan has been organized, it doesn’t mean anything to a client if their ads are not delivered as contracted.
While every tv media outlet promises to “make good” on any spots that were missed, you would be surprised at how often their replacement options aren’t very close to what the original selection may have delivered. Since they too only focus on the rating points and in only the primary demo, in their mind, the numbers add up. But as I always say, don’t charge me for a pound of filet mignon and then serve me a pound of ground beef. Their weight may be the same, but their quality is certainly different!