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Media Measurement Brand Purpose Future of TV

Inside Nielsen’s rebranding strategy post-MRC scandal


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

October 7, 2021 | 10 min read

Following accusations that the measurement firm was underreporting viewership numbers, Nielsen saw accreditation of parts of both its local and national business suspended last month by the Media Rating Council. Now the company is preparing for a comeback. The Drum sits down with the company’s chief marketing officer Jamie Moldafsky to talk rebranding and measurement integrity.

Nielsen site homepage with magnifying glass

Nielsen is preparing for a major rebrand on the tails of its MRC accreditation suspension

Nielsen is prepping the next chapter in the company’s storied history. Once the gold standard of TV measurement, Nielsen’s reputation took a big hit amid allegations that it was underreporting viewership numbers.

Now Nielsen is gearing up for a major rebrand, with the goal of reframing how marketing and media folks – as well as consumers – view the company. The rebrand accompanies a range of product development efforts, with a special focus on Nielsen One, the company’s cross-channel management framework.

It’s clear that Nielsen has some heavy lifting to do. The company’s accreditations by the Media Rating Council (MRC), an industry standards-setting organization, were suspended last month. Nielsen responded with a blog post authored by chief executive David Kenny about the actions the organization is taking to address the four reasons for the suspension spelled out by the MRC.

Still, the MRC’s decision sent shockwaves through the media and advertising space, as marketers considered how ad measurement – particularly within the increasingly complex landscape of connected television (CTV) – might need to evolve. NBCUniversal even issued an RFP to over 40 vendors – including Nielsen – seeking new, innovative measurement frameworks and calling for “measurement independence.”

While Nielsen declined to respond to questions about whether or not it is submitting a proposal to the NBCUniversal RFP, the company has been busy trying to improve its measurement capabilities and regain trust among media and marketing players. On September 21, it announced that it will shift to an impressions-based currency for buying and selling – a move that will roll out alongside the integration of broadband-only (BBO) homes into Nielsen’s local measurement metrics early next year. This change could provide media buyers and sellers with more precise audience-related data.

Plus, the company continues to develop its Nielsen One product, a cross-channel measurement framework designed to iron out the challenges of converting different measurement currencies across media types. “For example, television today is measured on the average minute basis, whereas digital is measured sub-minute,” Nielsen’s senior vice-president of product management Kimberly Gilberti told The Drum in May. “So even though you can put TV data and digital data together, their underlying data collection and their underlying calculations are actually very different. They are being put together in ways that are not truly comparable. And that’s really our mission with Nielsen One: to put these numbers together in a way that they are as ‘apples to apples’ as we can make them.”

All of these fresh new stories are part of the new narrative being developed by Nielsen’s chief marketing officer Jamie Moldafsky, who previously served as the chief marketing officer at Wells Fargo. “I’ve done [rebranding] at a number of companies, and what you find, particularly when you’re at an organization that has the standing of Nielsen and has been around for a really long time, [is it can] become known for one thing, and it’s really important to make sure that the brand and that the business are evolving. And then, [you need to make sure] that people see the brand that way. We are best known as a TV measurement company – but over a number of decades, we’ve been evolving. The pieces of Nielsen that people don’t always know about are our planning and outcomes and our content offerings, which are built on top of a very strong data and measurement chassis.”

The four ‘critical phases’ of the rebrand

With the rebrand, Nielsen aims to put a new emphasis on its various content and media planning offerings that have rarely received the same attention as the company’s TV ratings and measurement capabilities. Additionally, it will invest in showcasing both its B2B and B2C capabilities to a greater extent.

“We did extensive research both on B2B and B2C [markets],” Moldafsky says. “And we learned [that there] is a lack of awareness of the full breadth and depth of what Nielsen is today. Both clients and consumers have in their head ‘TV ratings.’ But we serve clients across all different spectrums of content and advertising. In addition, we have a large number of offerings in the sports arena and in the music arena. [As far as B2C goes], we’re not [visible] out in the marketplace often. So, what you’ll see from us in the future is more visibility in the consumer space, because consumers love the information and the data that we provide. It’s the idea of what’s hot right now, what are people consuming, listening to, watching or engaging with – everybody’s interested in that.”

Ultimately, she says: “We really support two ecosystems through Nielsen: the content world and the advertising world. And the depth and breadth of those are really extensive and interrelated. That’s really the goal: to help our clients see us as the sum total of those, versus the individual pieces that they may have known historically.”

However, Moldafsky stresses that a successful rebrand is much more than a simple repositioning. She outlines four critical phases that are required to ensure the shift is meaningful. First, she says it’s necessary to get “a complete beat on the customer and the audience ... what is actually happening in the market.” Nielsen, she argues, is at an advantage here since the company is built upon a tradition of measuring consumer behavior and has “kept pace with” the shifting tides of the media and TV sectors in particular, as linear television transformed into CTV and AVOD and digital and social channels gained steam.

The next step is leveraging market research to deliver the products and services that consumers need and want. For Nielsen, a major part of delivering on this imperative is investing in product development. Long before the MRC scandal broke, the company was using its own market research and resources – which grew significantly last year with the $2.7bn sale of consumer intelligence platform Nielsen IQ – to invest in new products designed to improve media measurement.

Moldafsky points to the company’s Total Media Resonance product as an example, which aims to help brands gauge the impact of their ads. “[It allows brands to know] where [consumers are] seeing [their ads] across all channels ... and understand what [ads are] having the desired impact for their brand with their audiences.” The Total Media Resonance product has among the highest penetration among Nielsen’s target customers.

She also highlights Inclusion Analytics, a framework launched in February that aims to shine a light on representation, diversity and inclusion on TV. With Inclusion Analytics, marketers can gain insights into how diverse a given program is in reference to its target audience, its engaged audience and other metrics, which Moldafsky says will help brands make more informed value decisions. “If I choose to advertise on a particular program, I now can understand how diverse that program really is in terms of representing its audience. If the audience is 80% female and the show’s cast is 20% female, as a marketer, my first question is, ‘is that the right thing?’ And then, ‘how are those characters portrayed?’ We’ve been able to hold a mirror up to the industry around content and representation. People are so hungry for that – whether you’re a content creator, a content distributor or an advertiser, people really want to know.”

And then of course there’s Nielsen One, which the company sees as its golden egg. “Nielsen One is really the future of the company on the measurement dimension,” Moldafsky says.

Finally, the third and fourth stages of an effective rebrand, according to Moldafsky, are “transforming your company inside-out” and translating that transformation into a story worth telling. “It’s a fun place to be as a marketer when you have really transformed inside-out, you have the products and services before you contemplate things like visual identity and more of what we [often] think of as rebranding,” she says. “We’re pretty far along the path of having the right products and services and we’re already in the marketplace serving our clients. Where we are now is making sure that our culture, our values and the products and services that we’re investing in are the future of media measurement and media planning and outcomes, which we believe they are. [Now] it’s more about telling the story.” The company declined to share information regarding the timeline of its rebrand launch.

Reputational rebound

And as far as regaining its MRC accreditations and recovering any lost reputational value in the market, Nielsen is confident that it is well on its way. Moldafsky admits that there “were ramifications to the panel quality” due to servicing issues related to Covid, but says that the company is working closely with Nielsen to regain its lost accreditations as soon as possible.

“We strongly believe in accreditation. We strongly believe in the principles that the MRC has laid out,” she says. “There’s no question we’re well on our way to the panel restoration, which was a pivotal part of [the accreditation suspension].” In fact, Nielsen is expanding its panels by 10-15% in the coming year and is back in panelists’ homes to do necessary servicing.

Moldafsky also says that Nielsen is eager to work with other industry players and stakeholders to improve the media measurement infrastructure at large. She agrees with other industry players such as NBCUniversal that “unbiased, objective, independent [measurement] is really critical to the success of the industry.”

Ultimately, she says: “We’ve been really honest and upfront, and need to continue to be with the industry and our partners around the state of our panels, the state of our measurement [and] what we’re doing to fix it ... being very open to and transparent with the industry [is important]. And that’s something that in the past, I don’t think Nielsen was ... that way. [Now] we have very strong support from the industry for the future vision. If anything, it’s just delivered sooner. We’re accelerating ... innovation to be sure that we can be ... where [our clients] need us to be as fast as we can be. Sooner is better.”

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