Impressions vs. Ratings: Which One Matters?

Pam Sullivan

Pam Sullivan About The Author

Nov 16, 2021 9:45:59 AM

Impressions vs. Ratings Which One Matters

One of the most important components of advertising is tracking and measuring your results to inform future decisions. After all, if you're not familiar with the success and failures of current and past campaigns, how can you know where to improve on your future campaigns? The biggest challenge marketers face during this time is choosing which measurements are more suitable.  

Impressions and ratings are among the top two essential analytics to measure to identify and evaluate results — and adjust accordingly. The key is considering what your primary marketing objectives are and which one offers the most insight. Since knowledge is power in business, this starts with a better understanding of each. 

Here is the difference between TV ratings and impressions and why that matters to you.  

Learn more about measuring your ROI

What Are Impressions?   

By now, the term impressions has been thrown around marketing offices quite a few times, but what does it really mean to measure your audience? Simply put, it is the number of potential views when your ad is delivered. Impressions are used to analyze how your ads are reaching your audience and can be used to measure a multitude of channels: social media, banner ads, TV commercials, billboards, radio, and more.  

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Take, for instance, a billboard ad. Sure, it was delivered to, say, 10,000 people on a highway in a day, but it can't account for the drivers who didn't look up at it because they were changing a station, focusing on the road, or blinded by the sunlight. Impressions don't necessarily mean that the user will see or even engage with your ad. It simply means that they could have.  

This may seem frustrating at a glance, but it's essential for your brand if you're interested in improving your brand awareness or measuring your advertising campaigns' ROI. Measuring the impressions of an ad is also easier for direct advertisers to purchase from, as it lays out how many people are estimated to see their commercial. 

How Impressions Are Used 

Impressions are used to value your average cost per thousand for your purchase to determine your buy's efficiency. Determining the most valuable CPM (cost per thousand people reached) figure can differ from location to location and industry to industry.  

How to Calculate Your CPM   

To calculate your average cost per thousand impressions, follow this formula: 
(Total Campaign Spend / Number of Impressions) X 1,000 = CPM 

What Are Ratings?   

Screen Shot 2021-09-24 at 10.17.24 AMWhile impressions can be used in many areas of marketing, ratings are exclusive to TV advertising. If you are even slightly familiar with TV advertising, you've heard the term many, many times before. Rating measures the size and composition of the audience watching a program, representing the total audience viewing of a program. This is how networks determine the value and cost of open ad space.  

Take, for instance, an area with one million people. If 10,000 people tune in to a specific show, then it has a 1.0 rating. This means that 1% of the audience in this demographic was exposed to your ad since it ran during this show. 

The rating model can get pretty complex since many components can make a difference for results like the number of homes in the sample, seasonal changes in viewership, and delayed viewings. Nonetheless, it can offer an efficient roadmap to how many people are likely to see your ad and whether a given network's cost is worth the advertising.  

How Ratings Are Used 

Ratings are often used to calculate the value of your average cost per point — meaning how much you spend to reach a given point (in the case of our example, the point was 1). In these cases, more agencies are likely to buy based on ratings than direct advertisers.  

How to Calculate Your CPP   

To calculate cost per point (CPP), you will need to follow this formula: 
Cost of your total advertising campaign / GRP (gross rating points) = CPP 

Your GRP refers to the number of viewers that your ad could have reached.  

Are All Impressions Equal?   

All impressions are not created equal. Remember, impressions only indicate the chances that someone saw your ad - it cannot guarantee anything. However, its value varies by platform. 

Screen Shot 2021-09-24 at 10.17.33 AMWhile impressions can be measured on social media, there's no reliable way to ensure that users see your ad. 1,000 impressions on social media means that your ad was posted to social feeds 1,000 times. However, one single user could've made up 20 or more of those impressions without ever clicking on or even engaging with your ad.  

On the other hand, a platform like over-the-top (OTT) that doesn't allow viewers to skip ads would be ideal for measuring impressions. On OTT (streaming television), viewers intentionally see more ads to pay less monthly or watch for free. This not only means that they're more open to seeing your ads but that they are unable to skip it either way.  

Your Objectives Determine Which Measurement Matters  

Breaking down and measuring ratings and impressions is an essential component of analyzing what works and doesn't in TV advertising. When you have an inside look into the data that supports ad spending in certain areas, you not only reduce your risk of ad-spend waste but obtain supportive evidence to pursue areas of advertising you find beneficial for your company. Working with a media partner ensures that your objectives are aligned with the appropriate measurement, maximizing your ad spend and campaign results. 

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