Impressions, Ratings, and How to Measure Your Audience

Dennis Izzard

Dennis Izzard About The Author

December 3, 2020 at 7:15 AM

Impressions, Ratings, and How to Measure Your Audience

When advertising with various ad campaigns, people can quickly get confused about the best method for measuring their audience. You may launch a comprehensive campaign that consists of different paid ads along with over-the-top (OTT) ads, for instance. The only way to effectively measure the success of these campaigns is to gain insight through analytics. At the same time, you need to know which analytics to look at and what they mean.

Two essential analytics to look at to measure your effectiveness in reaching your audience include impressions and ratings. With a better understanding of these, you'll be able to gauge the success of your campaigns against your goals more accurately. You'll also be more informed when determining how to optimize your campaigns for improved performance.

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What are Impressions?

If you’ve done any research up to this point you’ve probably seen the word impressions used several times. What are impressions and how are they used to measure an audience? In the simplest form, an impression is when an ad appears in front of a viewer providing a chance to be seen. If you want to know how your ads are reaching the public, impressions is the metric to analyze. While this indicates that viewers may be able to see your ad, it doesn't necessarily guarantee that they did. The concept of impressions is used to measure reach for all types of advertising mediums including television, billboards, radio and even digital.In each of these mediums, there are unique complications to using impressions as a measurement currency, making it not such an exact science. Digital marketing comes closest to hitting the accuracy mark, though  it neglects to account for clicks on digital ads, and whether one specific banner amidst several on a page was viewed by a user. 

Measuring impressions is ideal if your campaigns' goal is to increase brand awareness or if you want to measure the ROI of your advertising campaigns. Impressions recognize all audiences who see your ads, whether on TV or other mediums. 

What are Ratings?

You’ve probably heard the term “ratings” used when talking about the success of your favorite television show, but it is also a great analytic to look at when determining the reach of your marketing campaign. Unlike impressions, ratings are used exclusively to measure television and cable programming and advertising, and can be a little bit trickier to understand. In its simplest form, ratings represent a percentage of the total audience viewing a program at any given time. For example, if you have 1 million people with televisions in an area, and 10,000 of those people watch a show, then that show garnered a 1.0 rating. In the example, 1 percent (or one rating point) of the audience was exposed to the television show, and therefore, potentially exposed to your ad that ran in that show. In Nielsen ratings, points are measured on a scale of 0 to 100, representing percentages. If a TV show has a Nielsen rating of 20, 20 percent of the people who participated in the ratings service viewed the show. There are a number of nuances that affect the ratings model, like delayed viewing, number of homes in the measurement sample and seasonal viewing shifts. Taking all these factors into account, observing ratings still provides an informative roadmap when planning a commercial buy, and can even help you drill down and target a specific demographic. 

If you want to find out how many people are likely to see your ads, ratings can give you a good idea. You can use that data to determine if a network or program is worth using for advertising.

How You Should Measure Your Reach

When measuring your ads' reach, in some cases, it's better to calculate ratings, while in others, you're better off measuring impressions. Depending on the circumstances, you might look at both.

For example, you might create an ad that's intended to air during a major sporting event like the Masters. The ad likely consumed a large portion of your marketing budget, and you'll want to ensure that it was worth the investment by checking to see how many people are likely to see your ad. The next day after the broadcast, you would check the ratings and find that several million viewers tuned in to the game, which could be even higher than anticipated meaning you got more bang for your buck.

Simultaneously, while many people may have watched that event, that doesn't necessarily mean that your ad reached all of those people. To see how many times your ads were displayed in front of your audience, whether through traditional TV or other platforms like over-the-top streaming, you would check impressions. 

The fact is that TV is gradually making the shift to impression-based advertising as opposed to ratings. That is because impressions account for viewers on every screen and media beyond traditional TV.

Are All Impressions Equal?

Impressions may differ depending on the platform. Remember, while impressions indicate that your ads appeared in front of viewers, people don't need to engage with those ads to count as an impression. A person may also come across your ad multiple times, in which case a single viewer could account for various impressions.

That might be more meaningful on a platform like OTT streaming, where ads are typically non-skippable and likely viewed. On the other hand, that same ad might flash on someone's social media feed while they're scrolling, which could count as an impression that the viewer doesn't even notice. It's essential to consider which platform you're using and how people interact with those ads when gauging the quality of impressions.

Know When to Measure Either Ratings or Impressions

Depending on your goals and how you want to measure reach, you can look at ratings or impressions. While ratings can indicate the likelihood of your overall reach among audiences with TV ads, impressions are useful for helping measure the ROI of your campaigns by revealing how many times your ads appeared. Depending on the platform, impressions could be more or less meaningful as you measure your ads' success.

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