The Use and Limitations of Eyeballs and Ears

The following ray of sunlight is from an interview with a copy testing company (name delicately withheld). “There is an open battle for the eyes and ears of consumersand a silent battle for their hearts and minds.”

I think they got it right the first time. Checking eyes and ears can make our media dollars smarter. Hearts and minds I leave to Beth Israel.

Clark Gable had big ears when small ones would have done. He learned his movie roles by listening while he slept. The often overlooked point is the eyes can close, but the ears cannot. Which brings us to our subject: the different media senses and how well we measure them.


Media exposure is defined by our senses, not by research. The key media senses are seeing (TV, Print, Internet, Out-of-home) and hearing (Radio, TV, Internet).

Print also has an under-rated touch dimension which lets us skim pages.

When the ARF was a frisky five years younger it constructed a model for measuring media. The TV measures are 1) program audience or eyes-on vehicle exposure, 2) commercial audience or eyes-on advertising exposure, and 3) attentive audience or eyes-on advertising attentiveness.

In TV the basic requirement for each stage is eyes-on, or seeing. In radio it is ears-open, or hearing, which brings us to the subject of this essay – our media senses and how well they are measured.

Seeing is a voluntary or conscious sense. We point the head to see things (some frogs don’t have to). And we close our eyes not to see things and to sleep (some fish can’t do either).

Hearing is involuntary in that we may not listen, but we cannot shut our ears.


The words viewing, seeing and watching may have slightly different connotations, but that’s smoke. When the words are used in TV research they should mean seeing, or eyes-on the screen.

The peoplemeter is coy. It claims to report watching, but it doesn’t measure seeing because it can’t. The short explanation is people think having the TV take pictures is an invasion of privacy.

To report what it calls watching the peoplemeter asks respondents to push a button when they start and stop watching TV. But if they don’t push the button when they turn their head, or when they close their eyes, or when they leave the room even briefly, they are still recorded as watching, even though they cannot see the screen.

This minor malfeasance, especially during commercials, significantly inflates Nielsen’s commercial minute audience. It makes advertisers pay for viewers who are not seeing.


Just as an ideal TV currency measures seeing, an ideal Radio currency measures hearing. The difference is hearing is involuntary (or unconscious).

When sound is present, we may not focus on it, but we are aware of it. If asked, “Do you hear something?” we will answer yes. My noisy neighbor is annoying because I cannot close my ears.

The Radio PPM is a passive system which measures hearing. When respondents carry a PPM they hear any carrier signal a PPM records, since the PPM registers a radio exposure only when it is audible to the human ear.

That is the key sensory and measurement difference between TV and Radio. Even when listeners are not consciously listening they still hear radio. But when viewers do not see television, they do not see television.


Brand awareness is the hard currency of advertising, but a second kind of awareness has bubbled up from the basement of the brain.

Neuroscience shows the brain processes experience consciously and unconsciously. Many researchers see value in unconscious, or “low involvement” processing. They find it helps consumers remember brands and it can influence their brand decisions.

Hearing, as distinct from listening, is a good example of low involvement processing.


What does this mean to radio advertisers? In addition conscious awareness (listening), radio is the poster child for low involvement awareness (hearing). This combination gives Radio the most complete attentiveness package of any medium.

Listeners when not consciously listening still hear radio. But when viewers don’t see television, they don’t see television.

Is that why we call both audience?


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