March 27, 2013

While most small businesses do little research to know buyers, national firms continue to track you even more. Case in point: Nielsen, the TV rating firm, is now tracking everything you buy — adding data from what an executive said is “virtually all” credit, check, billpay and debit card purchases.

As reported in Advertising Age, Nielsen is sharing all that data with its clients. This data doesn’t include item-level data — for example they don’t know what you bought at Victoria’s Secret yesterday or the movie you saw last weekend — just your name, dollar amounts and times of the transactions. That is still a bit scary.

But it certainly opens up a world of targeting possibilities. CBS Chief Research Officer David Poltrack used the Nielsen Buyer Insights data to expand his belief that demographics are increasingly useless and that the purchase habits of audiences should carry more weight.

That’s called psychographics (Chapter 9 in my book) and I’ve been telling people to focus on lifestyle decisions over age and income (demographics) for years. The CBS series “Elementary” has a low 2.9 Nielsen rating in the age 18-49 demo but a high 7.3 psychographic  rating among heavy movie spenders, Poltrack said at a recent conference.

Is it time to change from demographic to psychographic ratings? Mr. Poltrack said he already sees demo targets losing relevance. That’s because the prized 18-49 demo group will fall to 54% of the audience this upcoming TV season, continuing a long-term decline. Purchased-based program ratings might be the only way broadcast TV can maintain ad rates, since TV viewing is dramatically moving to online.

But back to the scary part. It’s not going to be long before someone says, enough is enough. Stop tracking us.

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