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Nielsen Celebrates 90 Years of Innovation

3 minute read | August 2013

It started with $45,000, an engineering degree…and a dream. Ninety years later, Arthur C. Nielsen Sr.’s dream has been reimagined many times over.

On Aug. 24, 2013, Nielsen will celebrate its 90th anniversary. For us, this milestone is an opportunity to take a look back, and in the spirit of innovation, a look forward.

Very few companies ever get the chance to deliver true innovation even once. Nielsen has had the good fortune to deliver multiple innovations. Market share, cost per thousand (CPM), television audience measurement and Online Campaign Ratings are all in common use thanks to the demands of clients. They are the standards by which the habits of real people are measured.

Today, Nielsen employs tens of thousands of people across more than 100 countries. We have prospered because Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. and his son Art Nielsen, Jr. were visionaries who paved the way to decades of innovation. We endure because of our commitment to the original Nielsen Code, written by Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr.: impartiality, thoroughness, accuracy, integrity.

In 1923, Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. had $45,000 and an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin, which he used to create a company to help manufacturers invest in the best performing industrial machinery. Back then, Nielsen tested turbines and conveyer belts and reported back to clients.

At Nielsen’s Consumer 360 client event in Phoenix, Ariz. last June, author Malcolm Gladwell said innovation was often born from desperation, and leaders needed the courage to take risks. For Art Nielsen, Sr., that meant convincing his young son to purchase shares of Nielsen stock for $52 to fund a do-or-die business prospecting trip to save his struggling company.

When that prospect said yes, the direction of the company took a dramatic turn to roll out a new breed of interview-style surveys that shed light on consumers’ opinions on goods and services. At this point, Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. asked himself one of the enduring questions: “Why do we buy what we buy?” His answer was advertising, so he set out to measure radio and television audiences with unprecedented accuracy.

Fast forward to today’s fast evolving needs of marketers: Nielsen understands why mobile phones are so important to the African consumer, how loyalty card customers’ grocery baskets differ from week to week, and how many people watch the Super Bowl.

Any future-thinking enterprise must meet consumer demand. Nielsen helps companies win by letting them walk in their customers’ shoes while predicting the steps they will take. Innovations like market share, cost-per-thousand, television audience measurement and Online Campaign Ratings help businesses understand what people watch and buy. But perhaps most importantly, our founder firmly believed that using science to understand consumer habits could create a more efficient world to improve the quality of life for all people. Today, Nielsen drives that thinking through our global information and measurement efforts.

A few years ago, Art Nielsen, Jr. recorded a video for Nielsen associates and told us that a great leader never stops learning. For the past 90 years, Nielsen has worked to deliver the most complete understanding of consumers across the globe. For the next 90 years, the mission doesn’t change.

For a more in-depth look at Nielsen’s first 90 years, click here to see an interactive timeline.

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