This summer i plan on learning how to golf. This makes sense for a few reasons: One, I work on a golf account and the practical experience will be good for me; two, it seems like a fun way to spend a day outdoors. Maybe I can even use this new skill to network and meet colleagues. Golf and advertising apparently are inexorably tied together. Maybe because golf is a lot like advertising - both are simple to learn but take a lifetime to master.
As anyone can tell you, media is not rocket science. Still, that does not mean we can equate it with digging ditches. The basic media formula is simple: impressions divided by a universe equals ratings. The other formulas are not much longer or more complex. Still, it amazes me that such short equations can end up meaning so many different things. I should not be surprised; after all, E=MC2 is short too. The real challenge lies in applying our formulas and interpreting the results.
The TV upfront is perennially filled with misdirection and meaningless statistics. Each network proclaims itself No. 1 in something: Households, Women 18-24, Left-Handed School Marms, etc. However, without context those numbers have no meaning. CBS loves to tout its dominance on Households. Hyperbole makes for great headlines, but you can't buy against it efficiently. Ratings are just a piece of the puzzle. Concepts like audience composition and efficiency (pricing) are equally important. Finally, we have to match all of this hard data with quality, which is a totally subjective factor. The upfront quickly separates the amateur players from the pros.
The rules of golf are deceptively simple, but still deviously complex. Like media buying, it sounds easy until you actually try it. The perception belies the difficulty. The hardest part of my job is making choices. With 100 million Web sites to choose from, there are many ways to make a single media buy, all of which could be effective. The choices are overwhelming. Digital planning is accompanied by volumes of data that could be important. There are a ton of metrics to consider, and a person can go crazy trying to balance too much information: syndicated research (Nielsen, comScore, MRI, etc.), qualitative data (Dynamic Logic, Insight Express) and historical performance results. Suddenly, getting that little ball into a hole doesn't seem so easy.
The best golfers practice both their short and long game, just as successful ad agencies focus on both sales and branding. Generating sales is the basic reason for advertising. Sales must go up because that is what pays the bills. On the other hand, in a crowded marketplace, branding can help distinguish your product from the competition. In my opinion, agencies place too much emphasis on branding. It is rather easy to tell your client they are getting three name and claim billboards. It is much more difficult to quantify what that additional exposure means for their bottom line. Still, sales and branding each have a place in the process.
The other day I had lunch with two serious golf fanatics. For almost two hours they animatedly talked golf. I had the lamb chops. Advertising generates the same type of ardor. Advertising is the intersection of art and commerce; no other business is like it. No wonder we have so much to say about our own industry. There are no objectively right or wrong answers, just hypotheses to test. Moreover, media saturates the daily lives of our consumers; advertising is ubiquitous in modern society. It is hardly surprising that even laymen can offer salient advice about advertising. Even my veterinarian father offers advice. Though he still doesn't understand what I do for a living (no, Dad, I don't sell media, I buy it), he knows the power of the mass media.
Golf is a great metaphor for advertising. The best way to become great is through practice and hard work. It can be fun but also frustrating. The rules are often maddening. Of course, the most obvious comparison between golf and advertising has been left unsaid. After a long day of each, the participants like to go out and have a drink. Make mine a double.