Saturday, September 28, 2013

I got Nielsen-ed

Recently, I opened my mailbox and saw this:



Nielsen is one of the world's oldest information companies. For close to 100 years, they've created a business out of providing information about what people consume. While Nielsen is most famous for their TV ratings, their business covers everything from internet usage to what kind of soap you're buying. This is a company that lives and dies by the quality of their data. So how exactly does Nielsen get their data?

We have the huge envelope above--certainly less likely to end up in the trash than something more modest. Not pictured is a postcard they sent me about a week before the envelope came, informing me to expect a large envelope. They are extremely thorough. But it was upon opening the envelope that things really got interesting:


Cash! Cold hard cash! Apparently, this is an old surveying trick. Someone I recently met who works in consumer surveying said for years you could get by with only a quarter.

It's funny...my original plan was to send a bunch of garbage responses back to Nielsen, and write a blog about how easy it is to get bad data, and how rarely such issues are discussed by the analytics community. But those two bucks made me play it straight. Amazing. I'm aware of the psychology at work here, yet I still went along.

The actual survey was extremely brief. Given the time it took, I was making about 90$ an hour:


The most interesting part was that about a quarter of the survey had to do with Spanish and Hispanic demographics:


But my favorite question was #3:


I wonder if such a response will increase or decrease my chances of getting a future survey? On one hand, many TV broadcasters are still dismissive of households that no longer consume TV programming through traditional means. On the other hand, Nielsen has a pretty good track record of changing with the times, and the times they are a changin'. (I'm also tickled by the emphasis on "working". But clearly this is an important detail to consider.)

I returned my survey and happily pocketed my candy money. A couple days later, I even got a follow-up:


Now that's thorough. Having had my data harvested by Nielsen, it's interesting to see how much attention to detail they put into data collection (and how much postage they're willing to buy). The form letter is even signed by the "Chief Research Officer". I wonder how many psychologists consulted on that decision?

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