How Are Q Scores Calculated?

Kristian Dowling / Getty Images
Kristian Dowling / Getty Images

When celebrities go off the deep end, we’ll hear folks say they've “damaged their Q rating.” What does that really mean? What is a Q Score in the first place? Let’s take a look at the mysterious numbers.

How are Q Scores calculated?

The methodology behind the mysterious ratings is actually fairly straightforward. Marketing Evaluations, Inc. polls a representative national sample about performers, brands, TV shows, or some other property. First, it asks respondents if they’ve heard of the performer or show. If a respondent has heard of the relevant entity, the survey asks if they would rate it poor, fair, good, very good, or one of their favorites.

From there, calculating the Q Score is just a quick bit of division. Divide the percentage of people who peg a performer or show as one of their favorites by the percentage of people who have heard of the entity in the first place, drop the decimal points, and you’ve got your Q Score.

For example, according to a 1992 New York Times story, Jaleel White – yep, Steve Urkel – was the day’s top dog when it came to Q Score, narrowly edging out incumbent champ Bill Cosby. While only 53 percent of all respondents were familiar with White, 26 percent of all respondents listed White as one of their favorite performers, which racked up a stout Q Score of 49.

What does the Q stand for?

This simple division is also what gives the score its name. The “Q” stands for “quotient.”

Why do networks and advertisers care so much about favorites?

For all the reasons you’d guess. The Q Scores website explains that consumers or viewers who are exposed to one of their favorite performers or personalities are more likely to be attentive, will have higher recall, and will retain a more positive image of the brand, product, or show in question.

Is there just one Q Score?

Not even close. Marketing Evaluations, Inc. maintains several different Q Score databases, including ones for personalities (both living and dead), sports personalities, characters and licensed properties, TV shows, and consumer brands. There’s also a Cartoon Q that polls a nationwide group of 1800 kids every six months. These databases can be further sorted by age, income level, and similar variables.

Who uses these numbers?

Advertisers and media execs pay big cash for access to the Q Score database. Apparently the numbers can really come in handy when it’s time to cast a new show or sign a new spokesperson.

Any oddball firsts on the list of Q Scores?

Definitely. In August 2000 IBM announced that its chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue had become the first computer to earn a Q Score. Interestingly, Deep Blue was still on the national radar even three years after the computer’s highly publicized victory over chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov. IBM’s press release announcing the score revealed that Deep Blue had earned a Q Score of 9, which put the computer in the same league as Larry King, Carmen Electra, Howard Stern, and Carson Daly. (Since we know you were wondering – that figure also put Deep Blue a tick ahead of Gilbert Gottfried and Count Chocula.)

Even better for IBM, Deep Blue’s score put the computer well ahead of the 6 rating earned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems co-found Scott McNealy.

Who else has a particularly high Q Score?

CNN’s coverage of Deep Blue’s pioneering Q Score in 2000 listed a few other people and characters with particularly high ratings. At the time, Albert Einstein boasted a stout 56, Mickey Mouse was good for a 44, and Elvis’ Q Score was a decidedly not-dead 33.

What’s the best way to crater your Q Score?

Ask LeBron James. After the basketball star announced he was leaving Cleveland for Miami in his televised “The Decision” special last summer, his Q Score plummeted from 24 to 14. The good news for LeBron is that his Q Score has recovered slightly; reports from last month indicated that his score had crept its way back up to 17.

Why Are Poinsettias Associated with Christmas?

iStock
iStock

Certain Christmas traditions never seem to go out of style. Along with wreaths, gingerbread cookies, and reruns of A Christmas Story sits the poinsettia, a red-tinged leafy arrangement that’s become synonymous with the holiday. Upwards of 100 million of them are sold in the six weeks before December 25.

Why do people associate the potted plant with seasonal cheer? Chalk it up to some brilliant marketing.

In 1900, a German immigrant named Albert Ecke was planning to move his family to Fiji. Along the way, they became enamored of the beautiful sights found in Los Angeles—specifically, the wild-growing poinsettia, which was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S.-Mexican ambassador who first brought it to the States in 1828. Ecke saw the appeal of the plant’s bright red leaves that blossomed in winter (it’s not actually a flower, despite the common assumption) and began marketing it from roadside stands to local growers as "the Christmas plant."

The response was so strong that poinsettias became the Ecke family business, with their crop making up more than 90 percent of all poinsettias sold throughout most of the 20th century: Ecke, his son Paul, and Paul’s son, Paul Jr., offered a unique single-stem arrangement that stood up to shipping, which their competitors couldn’t duplicate. When Paul III took over the business in the 1960s, he began sending arrangements to television networks for use during their holiday specials. In a priceless bit of advertising, stars like Ronald Reagan, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope were sharing screen time with the plant, leading millions of Americans to associate it with the holiday.

While the Ecke single-stem secret was eventually cracked by other florists—it involved grafting two stems to make one—and their market share dwindled, their innovative marketing ensured that the poinsettia would forever be linked to Christmas.

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Why Does Santa Claus Live at the North Pole?

allanswart/iStock via Getty Images
allanswart/iStock via Getty Images

As children settle in for a restless night’s sleep this Christmas Eve, they’ll no doubt be picturing Santa Claus on his way from the snowy ’scapes of the North Pole to deliver them Star Wars LEGO sets, Frozen 2 dolls, and everything else on their wish list. They picture Santa at the North Pole, of course, because they’ve seen him living there in numerous Christmas movies, books, and television specials, from perennial Rankin/Bass programs to more modern classics like 2003’s Elf.

While it might seem a little more magical if we told you that nobody really knows why Santa lives there, there is a relatively traceable paper trail: The first known reference to Santa’s North Pole residence is in an 1866 cartoon from Harper’s Weekly.

According to Smithsonian.com, famed political cartoonist Thomas Nast—who was also responsible for establishing the donkey and elephant as the symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively—first started creating Harper’s Weekly Christmas cartoons as Union propaganda for the Civil War in January 1863. Borrowing imagery from Clement Clarke Moore’s (alleged) 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (which you’d probably recognize as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), Nast developed the white-bearded, rosy-cheeked, all-around jolly guy that we know today, and showed him passing out gifts to Union soldiers, climbing into a chimney as a soldier’s wife prays, and more.

harper's weekly santa claus at camp by thomas nast
Thomas Nast, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The cartoons became so popular that Nast branched out from his source material and began inventing his own details to add to Saint Nick—like where he’s from, for example. A December 29, 1866 issue of Harper’s Weekly debuted a multi-image cartoon titled “Santa Claus and His Works,” which includes a small inscription along the circular border that reads Santa Claussville, N.P. According to The New York Times, we don’t know exactly why Nast chose the North Pole (or if it was even his own idea), but there are a few reasons it made sense for the time period.

For one, Santa Claus was already widely associated with snow because most of the publishing companies producing Christmas cards and other content were located in New England, where it actually snows around Christmas. Furthermore, the 1840s and 1850s were partly characterized by high-profile—and ill-fated, in the Franklin expedition's case—attempts to explore the Arctic, and the public was generally interested in the mysterious, poorly-charted region. Because the Pole was unoccupied, Santa and his elves could toil the year away without interference from prying eyes; and, because it was unclaimed, Santa could remain a bastion of benevolence for every nation.

merry old santa claus by thomas nast
"Merry Old Santa Claus," perhaps Nast's most famous illustration of Santa, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper's Weekly.
Thomas Nast, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though we’ll likely never know Nast’s personal rationale behind placing Santa Claus in the North Pole, one thing’s for sure: At this point, it’s hard to imagine him living anywhere else. It’s also hard to imagine him riding a broom, wielding a gun, or smoking cigarettes (find out the stories behind those early Santas here).

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