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PPM: If You Can’t Remember Listening, What’s the Point?

Recent research reported that some fraction of radio PPM listeners are listening to some of their stations so passively they don't even know they're listening.  They actually listen to stations they don't remember listening to and in some cases don't even know exist!

While this is nice check in the box marked "accuracy," it leads to a much more important question:

Of what value is this kind of listening?  And of what value – to our brands and our advertisers – is this kind of listener?

The whole thrust of digital media is to enable communities of passion to form around what they care most about and share those passions with each other.  It is, in other words, in direct opposition to a PPM trend which gives influence, however slight, to use of our products which may be inadvertent, accidental, passionless, and unconscious.

Which environment would an advertiser prefer to be in?  The one where people care about the activity they're engaged in?  Or the one where listeners are caught, quite by accident, in an audio drive-by?

In the long run, the massive reach illustrated by PPM is valueless unless that reach adds to something more than empty and distracted ears.

Further, how does a radio station market and brand itself for an audience that doesn't even know they're listening – or might listen – to it?  You can't.  Unless your strategy is to be the station matched to a background environment and likely to be tuned in at times and in places where listeners are paying attention to something else altogether.  To be, in other words, unavoidable – like a highway toll.

This may explain the success of Mainstream AC in the PPM world, but it doesn't mean we can duplicate that success with every format.

And it still calls into question what "ratings success" means in an advertising world where people's passions carry more wait than the accidents of listening many listeners deny and can't even recall.

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