Real Media Riffs - Thursday, Dec 9, 2004

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO HOUSTON - Arbitron discovered it may not need Nielsen, after all. Well, not the "Nielsen" brand name, anyway. Results of Arbitron's initial sample recruitment for the Houston market trial of its portable people meter system are in line with those achieved when Arbitron collaborated with Nielsen on similar market trials in Philadelphia. Most importantly, Arbitron is managing this without leveraging the Nielsen name. "Arbitron is demonstrating that, on our own, we can recruit a high-quality, representative panel of consumers for a PPM ratings service," boasted Bob Patchen, vice president-research standards and practices at Arbitron, emphasizing, "Arbitron recruiters, using Arbitron-only branded materials, have delivered an initial PPM panel that we believe will stand up to the scrutiny of the radio and television industry in terms of its quality."

Those results are significant because some observers, including a number of perturbed Nielsen watchers on Madison Avenue, had feared that Nielsen's failure to support the Houston test, or even lend its name to the recruiting process, would handicap Arbitron's ability to build a quality sample in the market. As it turns out, the omission of Nielsen's involvement may have been a net positive. Among other things, Patchen reports that Arbitron has been achieving especially strong results in recruiting sample participants "across all ethnic and racial groups." Of course, that's something Nielsen has had some difficulty doing in the rollout of its local people meters in some markets, which makes us wonder how much of a positive the Nielsen name actually is in the recruitment process.

It also makes us wonder what will happen when Nielsen begins recruiting the sample for its planned rollout of a local people meter service in Houston next year, which ironically could end up competing with Arbitron's PPM panel, which Nielsen has an option to joint venture on.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Nielsen name has proven to be a weak contributor to sample cooperation. Last year, Nielsen ran ads in Chicago to test whether advertising would help boost sample recruitment. It did not. Nielsen executives interpreted that to mean that advertising doesn't work in that context. But maybe it's the Nielsen name that didn't work.

Why is that? Well, we're not sure, but it could have something to do with all the advertising and media spin levied by anti-Nielsen forces - mainly News Corp. and Don't Count Us Out. Could it be that all those media impressions fostered some kind of negative association with the Nielsen name for prospective sample participants? It just a hunch, but if it's true, maybe Nielsen should think about using the Arbitron name to help it recruit samples in the markets it's having difficulty with.

IMMACULATE CONTRACEPTION AD BANNED DAY BEFORE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION -- We enjoy reading about guerilla marketing campaigns and even campaigns that push the envelope, but a campaign in London may have taken the spirit of Christmas a bit too far. According to Reuters, a campaign for Levonelle One Step, a morning after birth control pill, was dropped by drug company Schering AG of Germany because of complaints from religious organizations.

The poster appeared on London Underground trains and asked: "Immaculate contraception? If only."

"It might be Christmas time," it read, "but condoms still split and pills still get forgotten. So if your contraception lets you down, ask your pharmacist for Levonelle One Step."

The ad was intended as a play on words stating that there is no such thing as an immaculate contraception. Coincidentally, Wednesday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day that Roman Catholics celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The poster also prompted complaints to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who are investigating the ad.

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