The objective of the series on marketing attribution was to demonstrate how constraints, caused by humans and nature themselves, generate enormous issues in the marketing sciences.

Sometimes such issues are trivialized away.

“After all, this isn’t exactly rocket science.”

Indeed it’s not.

Marketing science is harder.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published the basic physics of how a rocket escapes Earth’s gravity in 1903. Those laws of physics applied in 1957 when Sputnik was launched. They’ll apply the same way again when/if, in 2012, 55 years later, North Korea gets something out into orbit.

While the math looks intimidating, it’s Newton, some systems thinking and some calculus.

There are engineering difficulties with respect to stress, force, and materials sciences that are not trivial. In general, however, the science involved in sending a payload into orbit are known and uncontroversial. I’m not reading angry blogs about the right escape velocity or the proper way to calculate an integral. There aren’t a series of ‘camps’ that have sprung up around fundamental aerospace physics. It’s settled. There are no more gaps in our current knowledge.

In marketing you can’t say that the same things that worked reliably in 1957 would work in 2012.

Here’s an ad from 1957, right around when Sputnik was launched. Take some time to watch it.

Here’s an ad for the same company from 2012. Again, compare.

Try running that 1957 ad today. Would it be effective? Try running that 1957 ad in any country where it is 1957 today (Thailand, for instance). Would it be effective? Probably not. Even if you updated it for color, we, ourselves have changed. The idea of staged road test as though it was objective would be treated with incredulity. (There wasn’t a second annual auto decathlon, was there?)

Would that 2012 Chevy commercial about the end of the world work in 1957? Somehow, I don’t think post-apocalyptic imagery would have played very well during the Red Scare, especially after Sputnik.

Physics isn’t marketing. The gravity well that is Earth is a fairly constant. The system that is ourselves, and the interplay between what we produce in marketing, and what marketing does to us, is dynamic. It makes identifying the natural laws of marketing extraordinarily difficult.

Similarities and Differences

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky saw rocketery as a closed system. Mass, in the form of a propellant and a payload, was causing the rocket to move through space and time. The constraint the rocket was facing was Earth’s gravity. These variables, isolated, containable, and unpacked, yielded a very clean dynamically updating model.

And there’s some evidence that marketers themselves became aware of this.

The concept of divergence is known to us. It’s derived from solid evidence that audiences recall risky and unusual messages. Indeed, you may remember the following car commercial from 2006:

The marketers demonstrate awareness of what they’ve done to the audience in their playful follow up. ( ):

That’s not to say we don’t give up. 220 (or 229) years elapsed between Newton/Leibniz and Tsiolkovsky. The first references to marketing as a science dates to 1885, and we only seriously got started in 1965. Several advances in complexity theory and systems research help.

So, no, analytics and the marketing sciences aren’t exactly rocket science.

They’re more complicated than that.


I’m Christopher Berry.
I tweet about analytics @cjpberry
I write at

4 thoughts on “Marketing Science and Rocket Science

  1. Jim Novo says:

    I think a core challenge with marketing as a science is not all of it can be treated scientifically and (most?) people do not know where to draw that line.

    This leads to the creation of pseudo-science when people step over the line, e.g. creating “scientific sounding” explanations for stuff that cannot be explained using the scientific method.

    This frequently occurs when the ability to use science “runs out”, you just can’t take the mission any further in that direction. But instead of declaring that “from here forward, we are using gut feel” people create pseudo-science to fill the gap.

    When you have a engineering problem like rocketry, there’s the science, it drives the solution, problem gets solved, cycle terminates.

    With Marketing, you often do not get that kind of termination, because you can only solve certain kinds of problems scientifically.

    All that said, it seems like not nearly enough science is being applied to Marketing where it easily could be. All you have to do is read 1 issue of Marketing Science Magazine to realize the huge potential of this approach.

    But at the same time realizing that you can only take it so far, and in the end, you just might not be able to launch that rocket – but at least it will look really cool, right?

  2. I agree on pseudo-science. The plural of anecdote isn’t evidence. But, it might as well be. 😉

    Many marketers think in terms of rockets when they do campaigns. It’s a single objective. It’s in market. It’s designed to get an audience to think a certain way. Then it’s over.

    Some knowledge is transferred to the next cycle.

    In database marketing, there’s a sense of change over time.

    We had that great schism in 1921 between the scientific marketers and the brand marketers. Should we wait until 2021 for the great reunion?

  3. Jim Novo says:

    For the scientific crowd, I don’t think there is a schism between Brand and Direct. Within this circle, when people make claims about Brand, they’re based on Brand-centric measurement approaches, e.g. if you want to measure awareness, you need to ask a random sample of people if they are aware. If you want to measure whether a campaign increased awareness, you ask people before and after campaign and compare.

    IMHO, the largest producers of pseudo-science are the Brand-side folks who, for example, simply declare that any impression delivered is a benefit because it “increases awareness”, when no proof of this statement exists.

    Further, these folks tend to leap from awareness to economic benefit, as if awareness itself creates activity or has economic value. Personally, I’m aware of a ton of stuff I would never interact with or buy…

    It’s funny how so many “modern” marketers continue to embrace concepts developed in the 1960’s for 3-channel broadcast media. Is “Brand” the same concept now as it was then? Really? I thought the web “changed everything”?

    See you in Toronto…

  4. Very quickly. Marketing object changes, i.e. people adapt/react/evolve as a response. It is as if gravity would change after (stronger/weaker) after X many orbital flights; rocket scientists would be scratching their heads.

    Since Marketing is about influencing behavior, there probably are universal fundamentals that exist and can be explained by economics, or behavioral psychology, but strangely, decades of research haven’t brought them to light yet.

    Could there ever be finality in Marketing, i.e. once we discovered the exact and efficient way to sell something it would apply all the time, everywhere, forever? I doubt that.

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