Published on: June 11, 2013by Michael Sansolo
In marketing, as in so many other elements of business, there are only so many aspects of performance that can be controlled. Strategies can be drawn up and executed yet sometimes things work great and sometimes, despite all the best efforts, they fail.
So when marketing magic happens, it’s takes special care to make sure the magic is nurtured and protected. As simple as that sounds, sometimes it gets forgotten and that’s sad, especially in modern times when consumers can and will identify the magic, usually through social media.
For the past few years, we residents of the Washington, DC, area have witnessed marketing magic and, unsurprisingly, it had nothing to do with politics or government even though it involved some long dead presidents.
A few years back, major league baseball returned to Washington with a team that was mostly mediocre. But by employing a twist on a widely used promotion the Nationals’ games had a special touch. In every game - during the middle of the fourth inning - the Nationals had a group of mascots race in from the outfield.
Now I’ve seen this done in both Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, with sausages and pierogies respectively, and while both are cute they never gripped the crowd like the race in Washington.
Drawing on the history of the Capitol City, the Nationals’ race featured the four presidents from Mount Rushmore (well, huge cartoonish heads of the president) racing from centerfield to first base. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did battle at each home game.
For reasons no one could explain, Teddy could never win. In fact, through the first 523 races held over multiple seasons and despite various attempts at cheating, Teddy always lost. Countless theories were offered linked mainly to the rounder shape of Teddy’s head.
Through the losing streak, Teddy became the winner. Websites and social media links sprung up demanding that Teddy get a victory. The race won numerous awards for marketing excellence and the Teddy mascot became a local celebrity, making appearances around town. The other three did the same, but Teddy was clearly the star.
What’s more, Teddy’s streak transformed the race. Throughout the top of the fourth inning the stadium was always alive with anticipation of the meaningless contest. Once the race started - always with some contrived beginning on the electronic scoreboard and using various props like Segways and more - the stadium was transfixed wondering if tonight was the night. It never was.
The Nationals recognized they had a good thing going and increasingly found ways to get Teddy into the lead near the finish line. The crowd would roar its approval only to watch at one of the other three shot past for the victory. It was silliness, clearly rigged and never impacted a single game.
But it was marketing magic.
Because the Nationals had a great thing and blew it.
Last year the team got good and made the playoffs. And in recognition of that achievement on the last day of the season they let Teddy win. In fact, he won the race through all three playoff games before the Nats were eliminated.
This year the team is still strong, if currently underperforming. The crowd size is up because of the team’s play and promise. And the president’s race still takes place in the middle of the fourth inning every game, although a few things have changed. A fifth president, William Howard Taft (!!!) was added and Teddy wins from time to time. (Inexplicably, Lincoln is having a tough year.)
Oh and the magic is gone. The race is fun and endlessly creative, but no longer is the crowd as transfixed.
I think there’s a great marketing lesson in that. Magic doesn’t come along everyday and it’s not always logical. So when it happens, no matter how it happens, magic must be nurtured.
As Crash Davis taught us in Bull Durham, you always have to respect a streak. Even a losing streak like Teddy’s, if it makes the moment. Because recapturing that moment can be really hard and maybe impossible.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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