Nielsen Hires Top Multicultural Shop To Counter Local People Meter Opposition Ads

In an effort to offset the impact of a well-financed anti-people meter campaign aimed at minorities, civic leaders and politicians, Nielsen has hired a top multicultural marketing agency to conduct an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign of its own. The effort, which will include print and radio advertising, as well as a "grassroots advertising," will be handled by Burrell, a multicultural shop that is regarded as one of the top agencies specializing in African American consumers.

The agency said its goal is to "correct erroneous and misleading information circulating, according to news reports, as part of a multi-million campaign financed by News Corp." News Corp., a major opponent of Nielsen's local people meter system, has publicly acknowledged backing the efforts of Don't Count Us Out, an anti Nielsen advocacy group that is estimated to have spent more than $5 million on advertising, PR and lobbying efforts to stop Nielsen's roll out of the meters. News Corp. and DCUO maintain that the meters and their audience samples do not accurately measure TV viewing, particularly among African American and Latino households. Nielsen and Burrell did not disclose the advertising budget for the campaign, nor how long it would run.



A Media Rating Council audit of Nielsen's local people meter system in New York did find higher-than-usual "fault" rates among African American households - meaning they did not produce useable ratings data - but the only ethnic group to be significantly under-represented in the sample was Asian Americans.

The pressure mounted by News Corp. and DCUO last week led to the first Congressional hearings on the TV ratings business in 38 years. Lawmakers concluded the hearings without taking and specific action, though they implied that "legislation" remains an option.

Nielsen has maintained that the local people meter systems are a superior method for measuring all viewers, including minorities, and that their audience samples are as good, or better than their older ones.

Burrell said its advertising and PR campaign would target a broad cross-section of viewers, but would be particularly focused on African Americans and Hispanic families. One of the fears of Nielsen's and the MRC's has been that the aggressive advertising and PR efforts of DCUO would actually dissuade minority households from participating in Nielsen's sample, which ironically would make the samples less representative of those types of viewers. The MRC was especially infuriated by DCUO's use of TV advertising that referenced the MRC's own audit, which some council members believe might have been a violation of the group's bylaws and grounds for censuring News Corp. No action has been taken publicly on those charges, but the MRC said it is investigating that matter, as well as the release of a confidential MRC audit of the New York people meter system to the press.

Nielsen has employed advertising to offset DCUO's efforts, including ads produced and placed in-house by Nielsen in major urban and suburban newspapers aimed at African American and Latino readers.

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