Forget Facebook; Nielsen Knows A Lot More About You Than You Realize

catch-me-if-you-can1Nielsen made a big splash when it announced that it was going to start counting the audience of TVs connected to the Internet in addition to viewers of over-the-air and cable TV. This currently doesn’t include iPads or services that don’t run ads (like Netflix), but that will most likely come in time.

However, Nielsen’s desire to understand what consumers buy (or want to buy) doesn’t end with the screens they watch. Nielsen is trying to track and quantify consumers’ actions in other parts of their lives too so that marketers can reach them even more effectively. Several years ago, Nielsen entered into a joint venture with Catalina Marketing called Nielsen Catalina Solutions. Catalina owns a massive database that tracks everything that 130 million consumers buy — in real time — at over 50,000 food, drug and mass merchant stores worldwide. As soon as customers check out at registers and use their credit or loyalty cards, Catalina has tracked the purchase and added it to their system along with that individual consumer’s buying history. Powerful stuff.

The mission of Nielsen Catalina Solutions is “to help marketers and media companies measure and improve advertising performance by accurately linking what consumers watch with what they buy.” This is real data from real people connected directly to how those consumers are actually buying. Once Nielsen can tie that data back to how people watch TV, they can determine which ads have been successful in actually driving purchasing behavior. Powerful stuff, especially for marketers who are salivating for that information. (This is also potentially dangerous for networks who have sold marketers access to their audiences at high CPMs if it can now be proven that certain advertisements they’re showing don’t work.)

Nielsen’s ambitions are clear: The more screens they can use to gather data, the more directly they will be able to allow advertisers to target consumers about whom Nielsen knows an awful lot in the real world. Nielsen will be able to forge stronger and stronger connections among all that data and know more and more about consumers’ actual behavior relative to the advertisers who are trying to reach them.

Powerful stuff.