In Praise Of A Great American Sport: Direct Marketing

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Were you sad when the FIFA World Cup drew to a close? Do you miss the hours you were riveted by the latest soccer match and distracted from work? I seriously doubt it.

You probably paid no attention. At most, you might have meant to watch a few games to demonstrate your cosmopolitan sensibilities but instead fell asleep after a few minutes of sheer boredom. But don't worry. It's all right, even natural, that you don't like soccer. And contrary to what many commentators hope, you're not going to learn to like soccer either. After all, you're an American and you play a very different great American sport: direct marketing. Both facts make an appreciation for soccer virtually impossible.

Much was written about soccer and the World Cup over the summer months (though perhaps not in DM News). Some pundits have even admitted that soccer is boring and slow to catch on in the United States. However, I have not read or heard any commentary that strikes at the true incompatibility between soccer and American conceptions of sport.

We like our athletic pursuits to rise above the vagaries and pettiness of everyday existence. Americans want to witness hard working and heroic individuals set a goal and then go out and achieve it -- directly, predictably and measurably. We want Michael Jordan to hit a game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, Joe Montana to drive down the field for a touchdown in the final two minutes and Babe Ruth to point out a spot in the bleachers and then hit a home run there

That's why the great American sports are baseball, basketball, and football and, yes, direct marketing. What returns a more predictable, measurable result in direct proportion to hard work and concerted action than direct marketing? We set our goals, develop and launch campaigns, measure and optimize, and then have no doubt whether we've achieved success.

What is more American than apple pie? The Montgomery-Ward catalog, the Avon lady, Sears & Roebuck, Reader's Digest, Book-of-the-Month Club, and the Yankee peddler to name a few venerable direct marketing names that shaped the very development and fabric of American business and society.

Soccer bears little resemblance to great American sports. Rather than rising above, soccer reflects the disparity of day-to-day existence. In a soccer match, referees and penalty kicks commonly determine the outcome, and a better team can play a better game and still lose quite easily.

Even history's greatest soccer players have had no ability to impose their will upon a game, to step in and decide to drive the team down the field for a last minute, game winning, score. In fact, nobody but the referees know when the game will actually end, so an American football style 2-minute drill is impossible. And I won't even bother to address the highly annoying habit of flopping on the ground pretending to be hurt in hopes of a penalty.

Instead of individually directed action, there is a general ebb and flow to every soccer game, with some goals the result of a semi-planned action, and others the result of pure luck (assuming someone actually scores at all). The impact of individual players and scoring campaigns is not immediately measurable but hopefully has a positive impact over time. In other words, soccer is a lot like brand/broadcast advertising --where great effort (and money) is expended for only qualitative and approximate results. An American direct marketer will have little more interest in watching a soccer match than buying a half-time TV commercial.

Speaking of half time, with less than a month before the start of the NFL season, the true American sport of Monday night football and Sundays glued to the TV is approaching this fall. In the end, be happy that U.S. teams are still good at great American sports -- and that you play one too. Game on!

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