Here’s what it looks like when a popular NFL player explains complicated math

John Urschelscreengrab via VimeoJohn Urschel.

Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel announced on Twitter this week his plan to start his Ph.D. in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year.

The 24-year-old, 305-pound lineman has a well-documented aptitude for math. He earned his bachelor’s degree in three years at Penn State and spent his senior year working on a master’s degree in mathematics while being paid by Penn State to teach Integral Vector Calculus Trigonometry.

Urschel recently paired up with marketing tech company Persado to explain how math concepts are used in marketing. He starts with a relatively simple concept, explaining what an algorithm is. “At its core an algorithm is just a set of steps to try to work toward some goal to obtain some outcome,” Urschel says.

In this Feb. 22, 2014, file photo, Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Urschel will routinely provide a look at his journey leading to the NFL draft on May 8 in a series of diary entries. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)AP Photo/Michael ConroyJohn Urschel.

“A great example is Google’s multi-armed bandit algorithm,” he continues.

The multi-armed bandit informs Google about how different ads are performing and rearranges them according to how well they do, he explains.

Urschel also explains that so-called attribution techniques are essential in marketing. “There are a number of different attribution techniques that try to distribute the weight of a customer buying a desired product to each ad the customer saw in terms of how much it influenced them,” he says.

This may sound complicated, but an example he uses about a customer buying a pair of Nike shoes clarifies his point.

He says to imagine a customer got an email from Nike about a pair of shoes, but he doesn’t click on the link. Later, the Nike shoes show up on the side of Google as an ad, but he doesn’t click the link. Eventually, he goes to and buys the shoes. “How much weight do we attribute each [ad]?” Urschel asks.

That problem is central to attribution and is central in marketing, he says.

Watch the video below to see what Urschel has to say about math and marketing.

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