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Changing the Game: What Advertising Can Learn from Baseball

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Across countless industries, the scientific method has reworked incentive models, leaving behind a trail of positive change. Take baseball, for example. (If you’ve seen Moneyball, the biographical sports film starring Brad Pitt, you probably know where we’re going with this.)

Since its invention in 1846, baseball scouts have judged players at face value, based on a scout’s “gut feeling” or unreliable stats like RBIs (Runs Batted In), which have been proven to be more reflective of a player’s environment than their individual abilities.

But in 1974, sabermetrics quite literally changed the game. Defined by Bill James, sabermetrics is “the objective knowledge about baseball.” Sabermetric researchers use statistical analysis to challenge traditional measures of in-game activity, like batting average and RBIs.

Examining payroll across all 30 MLB teams in 2018, Oakland ranked 28th, Milwaukee 23rd, and Cleveland 16th in terms of budget. Nevertheless, Cleveland and Oakland finished in the top five and Milwaukee in the top ten for OPS (On-base Plus Slugging), one of the statistics sabermetricians believe to be extremely valuable. All three teams made the playoffs, and notably, Milwaukee ranked first in the National League. Cleveland and Oakland ranked in the top five for the American League, finishing first and second, respectively, in their division standings.

Cleveland, Milwaukie, and Oakland  all significantly outperformed what their payrolls might indicate.
Cleveland, Milwaukie, and Oakland  all significantly outperformed what their payrolls might indicate.

Using a scientific approach, teams with lower valuations can identify high-quality, undervalued players for a much lower cost.

You’re probably wondering how this relates to the digital media ecosystem. Well, buyers of media can take a similar approach using evidence-based metrics—and find similar high-quality, undervalued media bargains.

Evidence-based Metrics in Media

In the media measurement space, marketers traditionally use metrics like Viewability, completion rate, and brand safety to determine media quality and performance. Like RBIs in baseball, these metrics are not proven to be connected to outcomes.

Evidence-based metrics, however, put the scientific method into practice for our industry. Not only do these fact-based measures equip marketers with a more accurate picture of quality, they also have the power to undo the damage wrought by decades of inaccurate measurement.

With a good set of measures, advertisers will have more reason to pay for quality and publishers will be more inclined to deliver it, allowing the digital advertising market to flourish. And like baseball teams with lower valuations, advertisers with smaller budgets will be able to uncover undervalued media.

To further explore the history of the evidence-based movement in marketing, why metrics that reflect quality are so important, and how advertisers can adjust traditional media measurement to take an evidence-based approach, read our latest free guide, Introducing Evidence-Based Metrics, created in partnership with the ANA.


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