Baseball and Ads: An American Obsession with StatsPosted: May 19, 2013
It’s finally summer after a long—long—very long Midwest winter; and for me, that means one thing: baseball. So, you say to this long-suffering Cubs fan, what does baseball have to do with advertising? Well, I’ve touched on Moneyball as it applies to media in the past, but it’s more fundamental than that.
For Americans, baseball is synonymous with numbers. We just love stats.
In Truth, Lies, and Advertising, Jon Steele illustrates this point as it compares to our counterparts overseas. Just check out the difference between an American column on baseball and an English one on cricket – it’s simply part of how we consume information:
San Francisco Chronicle: June 2, 1994
TIGERS WIN, ESCAPE CELLAR
The Orioles have lost five of six, including three straight to the Tigers. Mike Mussina (7-3) gave up four runs and ten hits in six innings. He entered with a 5-0 record and a 1.57 ERA in eight lifetime starts against Detroit.
Belcher (3-8) gave up four hits, walked three and struck out three. He is 3-1 since losing his first seven decisions.“He didn’t look like a 2-8 pitcher out there. He looked like an 8-2 pitcher,” Mussina said.
Detroit took a 10-0 lead with a six run seventh inning. The outburst was fueled by an error by first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, ending his string of 161 straight error-less games.
British Sunday Times: May 29, 1994
This was a day of chilled winds and pocketed fingers, a day of grit and gruel, of edges to third man and thudded pads, a very English sort of day. Dour struggles between county teams on grudging pitches and under resentful clouds have always been part of English cricket, shattering the dreams of our youth and correcting the memories of our ineptitude…
…His life in cricket has been one of bluff commonsense interspersed with occasional shafts of stroppiness, although he remains a fine batsman. As he walked off it was hard to say if he were fed up with himself, the umpire or life. But he was fed up about something, a not unusual circumstance.
Perhaps these are somewhat exaggerated examples (can we please start using the word “stroppiness” in America?); but if we were to read, say, a Grantland profile of a given athlete today, we might notice similar language to that of the Brits, but it would most certainly be interspersed with an in-depth analysis of season or career statistics, much like the Chronicle example above.
For further proof, Steele notes the difference between American and British professional wine tasting. In America, we care deeply about a given bottle’s Parker score, a system developed by Robert Parker, Jr. based on the way he was graded in law school! Professionals in Britain scoff at the idea, fearing that such scores “take the poetry out of wine.”
Put simply, we like to be told what we like and what we don’t.
So what, you ask, does all of this have to do with advertising?
As an aspiring account planner, it has a lot to do with advertising.
Research gets a bad rap from the creative community; and when research is taken so literally, I am prone to agree. “But research is the backbone of your chosen profession!” you say.
Yes, yes it is.
The idea, though, is, in the beginning, to use research to gain insights, to derive those ultimate consumer truths; and in the end, to measure the brand’s distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendability, and depth — not just a simple, “did you like the ad?”
Perhaps that is why the Brits are so good at planning; the sheer difference seen in the two sports quotes above might be applied to the way planners from each country use data.
I’ve used this quote before, but it applies again:
“Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders. Instead, its steps forward (and sometimes backward) are often very human events in which personalities and cultural traditions play major roles.”
– James D. Watson, The Double Helix (as quoted by Jon Steel in TL&A)
The Brand Gap tells us that “bad research can be look looking at the road in a rearview mirror, [while] good research can get brands out of reverse and onto the Autobahn.” Ultimately, it’s a matter of a good researcher understanding how to apply the right kind of research in both the brief creation and campaign validation stages.
In Moneyball, we watch a battle unfold between old-time scouts who went on gut and experience alone, for players that had the “it” factor, played with heart, were scrappers – you know, all those cliches baseball analysts love; and the new-school sabermetricians who believed you could gain all you needed from analyzing a player’s advanced statistics.
As it applies to planning, I’d argue you’ve got to strike a balance between those two schools. When it comes down to it, a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. For a consumer to get the feeling you want them to, you’ve got to feel it too. And for the creative to back that up, your brief has to get them there.
There is a lot to be said for the intelligent application of data; but it cannot be relied upon. Instead, it’s up to us to straddle the line between creative and analytical; to continually become more and more able to apply data to the kind of humanity, flexibility, and respect for relationships that Jon Steel proposes – rather than rely on it in a cold, calculated fashion.