Why Did GM Track Radio Listening Habits Of 90,000 Drivers?


It’s all about the data. Last week at The Radio Show in Orlando, a lot of time was dedicated to data and what radio stations can do with it to generate more revenue. General Motors has gotten into the data collection business and the automotive giant is using radio as a way to collect it.

GM conducted a three-month test using in-car Wi-Fi, tracking the habits of drivers. The goal was to explore whether there’s a relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy. A GM spokesman also tells The Detroit Free Press that the data from this study could also help GM develop a better way to measure radio listenership, something advertisers would love to get their hands on, so they could target their ads..

The study was done in two cities, Los Angeles and Chicago and the 90,000 drivers in the study agreed to participate. One driver, according to the paper, listened to a country station and ate at Tim Horton’s restaurant. GM uses that information to speculate if an ad placed in the channel, aimed at that listener, by another restaurant, might change that person from stopping at Tim Horton’s and pulling into another nearby restaurant.

In the story, GM Spokesperson Jim Cain said the data collected in these types of studies is much more useful than radio’s ratings system. “Current ratings systems rely on diaries or Personal People Meters, which have many limitations, including small sample sizes. Connected radios generate data that could allow for more radio markets to be measured and provide other valuable insights.”

There will always be a question of whether this is digging too deep into the privacy of the consumer, or, whether it leads to a better listening experience for that consumer. It all depends on what happens with the data, if anything. Cain told the newspaper, it’s all a work in progress. “We now know that we can glean important insights on radio listening habits. It has generated interest in the advertising and broadcast communities. But we don’t have any new projects to announce at this time.”


  1. For 22 years, I’ve been told by ad agencies that no one listens to KCAA. According to them, if we had any listeners, we would show up in the “Book”. The GM tracking system would finally take some of that BS out of the conversation, or would it?
    These days, Smart phones and automobile Internet systems are omnipresent. They have replaced everything from phone books and pocket calculators to directions from point “A” to point “B” and they are doing everything possible to replace terrestrial radio.
    When the navigation voice is speaking, it mutes the radio. When we text and drive, we’re probably not singing along with Mitch. When we leave the car, we cut off the radio but we keep the Smart phone with us.
    Regardless, GM’s tracking system would be more accurate than the current ratings system. For a station like KCAA, it could be a light at the end of the tunnel that’s not an oncoming train.
    One thing is certain, the GM tracking system won’t leave out stations “arbitrarily”.

  2. Wanna get more revenue? Produce better, more effective “spawts”. Tell others.
    Wanna generate more audience? Produce better on-air communications.
    Any further questions?
    Fine. (sfx: paper snap) My invoice.

  3. It’s not “all about the data.” It’s all about preserving the sweetly private experience radio has always given drivers and passengers in cars. GM is nuts to sacrifice that for the unholy grail of “relevant” and “interest based” advertising aimed by spyware hidden in dashboards.

    The biggest advantage of radio advertising over the kind people hate on their computers and mobile devices is that radio’s advertising NOT personalized and NOT based on tracking people like marked animals. By not doing that, radio is perfect for making and sustaining brands.

    Perhaps a $trillion or more has been spent so far on tracking-based advertising, and not one single brand known to the world has been made by it. That’s because tracking-based advertising isn’t really advertising. It’s digital junk mail, operating on the same moral and economic model as spam.

    Countless brands have been made by radio advertising. I may never get insurance from Geico, but I sure as hell know “fifteen minutes will save you fifteen percent” with them. I know Geico, Progressive and ZipRecruiter bring me the sports shows I like. I also can’t help appreciating that brands are sponsors.

    Tracking-based advertising isn’t interested in sponsorship. Its interested in using whatever opportunity it can to get personal with consumers, wherever they happen to be. Most of the money spent also goes to intermediaries, not the station or program itself. That’s another way brand advertising is more efficient.

    Ad blocking took off in the digital world, becoming the biggest boycott in human history (1.7 billion worldwide at last count), exactly when the tracking-based advertising business (led by the IAB—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, its trade association) decided not just to ignore polite Do Not Track requiests, but to mock and dismiss those requiest with a smear campaign against its main advocate: Mozilla and its Firefox browser.

    Please, radio: be proud of your advantages over pure digital advertising media: that you’re perfect for brands, sponsorship, and listeners who appreciate what both make possible.


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