Selling From the Grave

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

After 40 years of giving its noted Q scores to alive and kicking television performers, research company Marketing Evaluations will tabulate scores for actors who aren’t so robust.

Now culling research for dead performers, the Long Island, N.Y.-based company is calling its new product Dead Q. It’s a research tool designed to help marketers and TV programmers, who are increasingly using performers of the past-such as John Wayne and Fred Astaire-in commercials or attached to new programming.

Increasingly, said Steve Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations, companies are using new video technical insertion capabilities to use performers from the past. In the late ’90s Fred Astaire could be found dancing in commercials with the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.

Mr. Levitt added that for cable networks such as Turner Classic Movies, AMC and Fox, which schedule older movies, Dead Q can be a helpful research tool. For instance, Dead Q could help a network decide which actor to feature in a Friday-night movie marathon.

“There are infinite possibilities for something like The Biography Channel,” Mr. Levitt said.

Marketing Evaluations also thinks the U.S. Postal Service could be a source of business, since the Postal Service releases collectible stamps bearing the likenesses of deceased celebrities.

Dead Q is the latest in a series of products the company has released. It has number of products evaluating TV shows, products and sporting events.

Its longest-running product is its original service, now called Performer Q, which began in 1964. Performer Q surveys twice a year the recognizability and likability of more than 1,700 performers. The company has a panel of more than 40,000 homes, representing over 100,000 people, who respond to mailed questionnaires.

Mr. Levitt said the highest score ever was for Bill Cosby, who garnered a 70 score (out of 100) in the 1980s. More recently movie star Tom Hanks has been regularly sitting at the top of the list with a 50-plus score.

Likability Score

Companies can benefit from using Q scores to make an educated guess about a celebrity’s potential as a marketing tool. For instance, Mr. Levitt said “ER” star Noah Wyle had a low recognition score but a high likability score when the series first began. That could have been valuable opportunity for a marketer to sign a Mr. Wyle as a spokesperson, exploiting his likability without having to pay him a large fee.

Recognition doesn’t always follow likeability. For instance, though recognition of Martha Stewart is high, her likability score is in the “single digits,” Mr. Levitt said.

For the most part, creative executives at ad agencies use Q scores to determine whether to hire a spokesperson for their clients’ products. TV programmers are the next biggest clients for Q scores, since casting directors will use the data to make decisions. And media agencies use the research.

Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director of Horizon Media, wonders if Q data is necessary these days. “A lot of people may feel they can do this research on their own,” he said. “You can go online and find out about people pretty easy. We live in a information age with a celebrity-obsessed culture right now.”

Mr. Adgate, though, liked the Dead Q product idea. “That’s interesting. The one thing about dead people is that their image really isn’t going to change. They are not going to suddenly get busted for spousal abuse or drunk driving.”

Lyle Schwartz, senior VP of media research for Group M’s Mediaedge:cia, said he uses the Q scores perhaps two or three times a year when evaluating talent on TV shows that his clients may purchase.

“We try to figure out who would be good to draw an audience,” he said, “and who would be good as a lead [performer] in a program. For some performers you look for a trend, to see whether someone is wearing out their welcome.”

Mr. Schwartz said some agencies may want to do their own research, but the key problem is in getting demographics, which is something Q scores offer.

Marketing Evaluations’ new products look to serve these specific research niches.

For instance, some years ago the company started a Q product for cable programming to evaluate the worth of specific cable shows. Mr. Levitt said with many cable shows getting tiny and indistinguishable Nielsen Media Research 0.1 and 0.2 ratings, Q scores offer deeper analysis for TV marketers and programmers.