While perusing the most recent issue of The Weekly Standard, your Friday Forecasters came across this curious headline: “NBC’s Fake News Show.” The piece went on to explain that NBC had recently come under fire for selectively changing the title on their primetime news show from NBC Nightly News to NBC Nitely News for the purpose of Nielsen’s audience ratings tracking. This scoop, first reported by Deadline Hollywood’s Lisa de Moraes according to the article, is intended to weed out weak broadcasts with the shady misspelled title so that, when aggregated, overall ratings for the “real” and accurately titled show will appear to be stronger than they actually are.
Obviously, this matters because ratings help set the price of advertising as well as bragging rights for which of the competing news broadcasts rules the overall audience roost. Before one grabs their musket to go peacock hunting, however, let it also be known that according to the report, this same practice is something that CBS has resorted to for Face the Nation in 2016. Further, they report that the same tactic has been employed by ABC with regards to Good Morning America “for a week in 2011.”
Sounds reminiscent of an episode of Game of Clones. Or perhaps Petty Little Liars. Maybe Million Dollar Lisping? (Forgive us, but Shameless, House of Cards, and Stranger Things are already taken). How, you might wonder, could the networks get away with such monkey business? As we understand it, the broadcasters self-report the titles of their programs to Nielsen of which, it is worth noting, they are all major customers of. Nielsen then uses a representative sample of around 5,000 households to extrapolate national ratings estimates of the purported 99 million households in the U.S. that have TVs. Because they have been around for some 70 years (that’s right, the first Nielsen ratings for radio programs appeared back in 1947), Nielsen is the “gold standard” upon which Madison Avenue plans and buys TV media, and measures audience size, reach and frequency.
All of which got us to thinking: when it comes to accurately evaluating the value of television media, perhaps there is a better way. That’s right, as direct response television practitioners, it’s obvious to us that a focus on actual lead and sales response might be a more meaningful way of assessing the value of TV advertising inventory. As Mary Ann Bautista of Bautista Direct Marketing puts it, “Nielsen is certainly one yardstick for measurement, and with many brand advertisers, it is embedded in their way of doing business and has been for years if not decades, so it is often a part of the media buying decision making process. But nowadays all marketers are essentially direct marketers, so why wouldn’t they add direct response measurement methodologies to ensure they are getting a solid return on their investment?”
Admittedly, there are limitations in terms of 100 percent accurate attribution of media airings to response, but with the kind of chicanery described above, brands would be remiss to not give direct response advertising’s approach due consideration. That way marketers can get far closer to determining the true value of media so that it echoes a show title like, say, The Price is Right instead of The Price Is Write. The alternative, after all, might just make one go ape. And we mean that literally, not phonetically.
Colleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution. The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.
Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.