First Rule of Sabermetric Marketing…

…is don’t talk about sabermetrics. So I’m going to talk about being kicked in the balls, instead. Then I’m going to explain how my being kicked in the balls is totally relevant to marketing sabermetrics. OK? Let’s go:

I once wrote a blog entry on my old Catfish Stew blog about being kicked in the balls during an indoor soccer game. It went a little something like this:

Somebody forgot to give the goalie the message. Instead of easing up when we got close to contact, he came at me like some freakish combination of Ronnie Lott and Scott Stevens. He ran full speed for the ball, jumped as high as he could to knock it away from me, and in the process, sent his knee full force straight into my groin, and slammed the rest of me right into the hockey-style boards.

The follow-up to that story is that earlier this year I ended up playing on the same team as the goalie who had crushed my testicles a few years before. So I had to forgive, if not forget. Now, you may suspect that the moral relevant to sabermetrics is that those who seem like an enemy could may turn out to be your greatest ally later. Perhaps thats true, but..I wouldn’t temporarily pull myself out of my blogging retirement to make so simple a point.

No, I want to add a more complex point to the conversation going around about the marketing of sabermetrics. The conversation was initiated by Will Carroll, picked up by Tango Tiger, and finally reached Carson Cistulli’s keyboard yesterday.

Reading Cistulli’s message reminded me of an old YouTube video of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s Think Different and Screw the Grammar ad campaign back in 1996.

If you’re interested in the problems of marketing sabermetrics, you should watch this whole video. But here’s the quote that is particularly burned onto my brain:

The dairy industry tried for 20 years to convince you that milk was good for you…and the sales were going like this (downwards). Then they tried “Got Milk” and the sales have gone like this (upwards). “Got Milk” doesn’t even talk about the product. In fact, it focuses on the absence of the product. –Steve Jobs


Now there’s a reason that quote comes to mind so easily for me. The insight — that listing a bunch of facts about your product is not very effective; the best marketing campaigns make an emotional connection between your core values and those of your customers — is brilliant, but that’s not why I remember it so well. The insight itself is just one in a list of facts about marketing, and probably wouldn’t stick with me very long without an emotional connection.

The reason is this: when I became teammates with the goalie who had earlier impaled me, I found out that in his day job, he was the milk industry executive who had spearheaded the whole original “Got Milk” marketing campaign.

Ever since I learned that, I can’t help but pay extra attention any time I hear any variation of the phrase “Got Milk”. There are very few emotional connections as effective as a solid kick in the nuts. Thus, when Carson Cistulli writes something with similar themes to the Steve Jobs speech, and the quote about “Got Milk” pops right up in my mind.

Now, to turn Steve Jobs’ point into a lesson for sabermetrics: Creating a list of facts explaining how sabermetrics is better than old-school analysis is not the best way to market sabermetrics, just as explaining how MacOS is better than Windows is not the best way to market Apple.

What makes it particularly difficult in this case is that sabermetrics is essentially about removing emotions from the equation. That makes an effective marketing campaign for sabermetrics somewhat of a paradox.

Nonetheless, the questions remain. What are the core emotional values of sabermetrics? What are sabermetricians committed to in their souls? Once you’ve answered those questions, then you start formulating a way to make sabermetrics more mainstream and popular.

So, baseball fans: Got Facts?

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  • colinflipper

    Curiousity is the emotion that comes to mind for me — particularly when people suggest that studying this stuff would somehow hurt my enjoyment of the game. I like baseball, so it seems natural that I would be curious probabilities for different outcomes, how to best measure the skill of players, and so on.

  • Ken Arneson

    I think you’re right, colinflipper. Curiosity is the thing that separates those who love sabermetrics from those who resist it, the thing that keeps sabermetricians pushing onwards.

  • monkeyball

    Ken, very interesting stuff. However, you’ve got the marketing question wrong: it’s not “What emotional value does sabermetrics offer for the people who already love/practice it?” but rather “What emotional value should sabermetrics offer for the people who DON’T already love/practice it?”

    Also, while ISWYDT with the closing slogan, that’d be a surefire way to continue to snidely insult the non-sabermetric customer segments. (I agree that they’re idiots who deserve refudiation, but we’re talking marketing here, not morality.)

  • Ken Arneson

    Oh, yeah, “Got facts?” is not the right slogan. But I had to end this essay with some form of “Got X”, didn’t I?

    “Got curiosity?” is probably better. But even better would be to avoid the painful Got X formulation all together.

  • crazydumbsaint

    Stat Gooder

  • bldxyz

    I think the word Facts is good, particularly in thus political climate where facts are so mistreated. But to me, what encapsulates the divide is personified by Joe Morgan. He has some facts, and conventional wisdom is not devoid of fact.

    What Joe and conventional wisdom lack is some combination of Relevance of the facts and Intelligence in how they are used towards making decisions.

    And I get all emotional about relevant facts, intelligently applied!