Survey: Nielsen Reports Cash-For-Clunkers Online Data

August 21, 2009
Cash-for-Clunkers' online buzz (from Nielsen)

Cash-for-Clunkers' online buzz (from Nielsen)

Media metrics powerhouse Nielsen Research spends a great deal of time analyzing TV ratings and buying habits, but the company has also kept its eye on the federal government's Cash-for-Clunkers initiative. New data reveals some interesting insights about the program and its effect on the public.

As we all know, Cash-for-Clunkers has generated a lot of chatter on the web, and Nielsen shows a spike in negative buzz following the launch of the program. Prior to the start date, more of the chatter was positive: about 10.5% of the total, compared to 7.9% negative commentary. An additional 10.7% consisted of writers discussing the vehicle they intended to purchase. The remaining 70.9% was presumably neutral, including general news reportage about the program.

After the program launched, positive chatter remained fairly steady at 10.7%, while negative talk jumped to 10.1%. Those considering buying a vehicle quieted down, making up only 7.1% of the dialogue. Since Congress added a $2 billion dollar extension to the $1 billion initially allotted to the program, those on the pro and con sides have been running neck and neck at 11.4%, while those mulling a purchase have slipped to 6.1%.

What this says to us is that despite Cash-for-Clunkers' runaway success, its bumpy implementation gave critics more fodder for their arguments. Before the program began, naysayers could only complain about the concept behind it, but after seeing Cash-for-Clunkers in practice, they had many more shortcomings to point out -- not least of which were confusing details about program eligibility and lagging payments to dealerships. Meanwhile, people who were predisposed to like the program chatted at about the same level throughout. No surprises there: critics typically generate more buzz than supporters in these instances. After all, if there's no conflict, there's not much of a story.

Nielsen also discovered that the website saw huge traffic after the start of Cash-for-Clunkers, jumping from 287,000 visitors in June to 2.4 million in July. Interestingly, the most likely site visitors fell in the 35-to-49 year old demographic and made over $100,000 per year. This is consistent with some early criticism that said lower-income buyers -- the kind most likely to own Clunkers-eligible vehicles -- wouldn't benefit from the program as much as wealthier individuals. Of course Nielsen's data only details website visitors, not program participants, so factors like web access in lower-income households would have to be taken into account before making any official pronouncements. We'll have a clearer idea of the data after the dust settles following Monday's shutdown of the program.


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