Baseball, Advertising and the Age of Acronyms

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In case you missed it (ICYMI), we live in an age of acronyms. While they’ve existed since the inception of the United States of America (aka, USA), the rise of tech- and text-speak has ingrained them into our vocabulary like never before. And, as the Major League Baseball (MLB) season begins anew, we are about to get bombarded with even more. Certainly, there are few sports or professions in which acronyms are as ubiquitous as baseball—with one possible exception: advertising.

In both cases, some acronyms have always been in the standard lexicon. Every Little Leaguer in history has talked about RBIs, for example, just as every media buyer or account exec has cited CPMs. However—thanks to the Internet and sabermetrics, among other factors—both pursuits have seen an explosion of new acronyms in the past decade, leading even grizzled veterans to madly Google terms just to stay current and avoid embarrassing WTF moments. What’s more, there are even corollaries between some baseball and advertising acronyms. Here are three prime examples:

1. BASEBALL: WAR (Wins Above Replacement) / ADVERTISING: QS (Quality Score)

While there are many metrics used to determine the effectiveness of a baseball player or an ad campaign, in each pursuit there is one widely recognized way to provide overall analysis. In baseball, that’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR); in (digital) advertising, its Quality Score (QS).

As its name suggests, WAR measures a player's overall value by calculating how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position—be that a readily available free agent or a minor leaguer. While the WAR concept is straightforward, the actual calculation is decidedly not. For position players it involves taking the number of runs above average a player is worth in batting, baserunning and fielding; PLUS adjustment for position; PLUS adjustment for league; PLUS the number of runs provided by a replacement-level player… DIVIDED BY runs per win. The foundation of this super-stat is built on simpler, traditional stats like batting average (BA), on-base percentage (OBP), fielding percentage (FP) and runs batted in (RBI).

Simple, eh? Rrrrright. (We won’t even get into how WAR is calculated for pitchers.)

In digital advertising, the holy grail of statistical acronyms is QS, which is used by platforms like Google and Bing to determine an ad’s rank and its CPC (cost-per-click). A high QS makes sure that the ad is shown above ads with a lower QS, provided both have the same bid. This calculation is based on one of the most basic of Internet metrics, CTR (click-through rate), as well as the relevance of the ad to the user's search and the relevance of its landing page.

2. BASEBALL: WHIP (Walks & Hits Per Innings Pitched) / ADVERTISING: CPE (Cost Per Engagement)

Baseball’s WHIP and digital advertising’s CPE also have an interesting correlation.

As any agency intern can attest, CPE (cost per engagement) and CR (conversion rate) are two of the most fundamental statistics in digital media buying – much like hits and runs are in baseball. Certainly, engagements play a similar role in digital advertising as hits do in baseball, serving as starting points and building blocks that hopefully lead to a sale or a run scored, respectively. Taking this logic further, every walk or hit per inning pitched (WHIP) is akin to a digital ad’s cost per engagement (CPE), and every run given up is like the cost per acquisition or conversion (CPA). 

3. BASEBALL: RBI (Runs Batted In) / Advertising: CR (Conversion Rate)

Obviously, not every hit in baseball leads to a run, just as not every click in advertising leads to a conversion—but you can’t score runs or convert sales without them. Thus, while it’s tempting to focus on stats like batting average (BA) or engagement rate, neither represents the true bottom line. Managers and marketers are much more interested in metrics with some nuance, such as baseball’s OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage). However, the most important metrics are the ones that measure the ability to (literally or metaphorically) put “points on the scoreboard”—most notably, RBI (Runs Batted In) in baseball and CR (conversion rate) in advertising.

Regardless of one’s interest in the national pastime or digital marketing, it’s clear that we live in an age of acronyms; they are simply an inescapable part of American life, circa 2024. Whether you choose to use them, mock them, ignore them, or incorporate them into your own patois is a purely personal choice. But, speaking as both a baseball fan and advertising professional, I think it is better—and more fun—to talk the talk.

But, of course, that’s just IMHO (in my humble opinion).