Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gee, thanks, Arbitron!

Ever get a phone call from someone you don't know asking you for information to help them in their business, with the sole apparent benefit to you being the chance to offer your opinion...and the vaguest of possible other benefits being an immeasurably small improvement in the entertainment sphere of society? Me, too.

In my case, it was Arbitron, the company that compiles ratings for radio stations so they can justify the rates they charge for advertising. They publish a book of very specific numbers based on sampling surveys--surveys which can yield very shaky estimates at best. But you have to have numbers when you're spending money, and without the money, radio could not exist as we know it. Never mind whether that's a good thing or not.

What I found amusing is that, after about three calls from Arbitron in which they asked me to take part in their survey and I politely declined (just didn't feel like it this time, OK?), they apparently got the message. But in the meantime, they employed another clever persuasive technique--a clever combination of bribery and guilt.

Two dollars. Cash. With a nice note thanking me for my time and assuring me how important my opinion is to radio stations. You know, the stations that stopped taking requests a few years ago, because they'd rather depend on consultants and market research than say, the station employees or the actual people who take the trouble to call or email their feedback?

OK, that's an overstatement of my skepticism toward the good folks at Arbitron. And I'm not just saying that because of the gift.

But two dollars. They probably did the research and found that two dollars is just enough for most people to say "hey, cool, two dollars--maybe I'll give those nice folks a chance and take their poll if they call again--I'd feel guilty otherwise"...but not enough to break the company if that person says "hey, cool, two dollars--suckers!" And of course the "conquer them with kindness" note is intended to clinch the deal.

It's not often you get paid back for the time telemarketers and the like take from you by calling you at home to ask you questions you don't care to answer or make offers in which you have no interest. So I give Arbitron credit for a clever approach. And I wish them better luck with the next person. Suckers.

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