By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When it comes to using the playbook for “How To Introduce a Mascot,” the Chicago Cubs hardly could have dropped the ball much worse this week.
I think even Steve Bartman would agree about that.
But in spite of a fallout from Clark the Cub’s radioactive debut that’s gone on to reach Chernobyl levels, there are some ways that the franchise can repair at least some of the mascot’s damage – and save some face – heading into this weekend’s Cubs Convention. Here’s how:
Tip No. 1: Re-brand Clark as a ‘Kids Mascot’
Prior to Monday afternoon, the Cubs were one of just four Major League Baseball franchises along with the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels to not have a mascot. As points of pride go, that’s not much of one, nor is it even one that’s easy to understand.
But it was something of a point of pride nonetheless.
And a true Cubs fan – like, say, Tom Ricketts? – should have known that.
For many Cubs fans, hearing the words “official mascot” evokes thoughts of some goofy stuffed animal running around hallowed Wrigley Field launching hot dogs into the stands. That’s a terrifying thought for diehards already concerned about how much their beloved game day experience at the Friendly Confines is going to be changing due to upcoming renovations and that huge Jumbotron in the outfield.
And so, for them, “Official mascot” is bad news.
But a “Kids Mascot”? Well, I’m guessing that’s something fans likely could bear.
On Tuesday, Cubs vice president of communications and community affairs Julian Green tried to stress to ESPN that Clark will have minimal exposure during games and that he’s intended to be a mascot for young fans.
OK, so then why didn’t the team present him in that way?
Few adult Cub fans – if any – have been clamoring for an “official mascot,” and if Clark truly is meant only for the kids, then he should have been branded specifically as such.
If the team had rolled out Clark in a more understated way as a “Kids Mascot” that would appear mainly at children’s and charity events, there likely would have still been some complaints about the team having a mascot at all. But surely not nearly as many – or with such vitriol – than what resulted with him being branded as “official,” a word that sounds a lot like a synonym for “omnipresent.”
Clark’s rep is now already tainted, but it’s still not too late for the Cubs to re-brand the character as a “Kids Mascot.” Doing so won’t erase the past, but it might help quell the backlash and outcry going forward.
Tip No. 2: Take Clark off Twitter
Speaking of backlash and outcry, what “social media specialist” in the Cubs marketing department thought it was a bright idea to set Clark up with a Twitter account at the same moment he was introduced?
Have the Cubs ever been on Twitter?
As a guy who spends more than his fair share of time in the world of social media, I can tell you that the entire realm is a field of land mines. Take one wrong step, and your rep can blow up in your face.
Among the social mediums, Twitter can be particularly vicious, and once a snowball starts rolling down its hill, it’s almost impossible to stop it. Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t really allow you to control comments or manage your online image, making it a tricky endeavor for a brand. The only way to thrive – let alone survive – on Twitter is if you’re quick, clever and smart.
The Cubs were instead dumb. To introduce Clark, they had him send out an initial tweet that was intended to be amusing, but in reality was remarkably inane: “Still figryuing out how 2 tyype with these big pawz. Will gett lessons from @Cubs. Come back soon!!”
Twitter isn’t a place where little kids spend their time, so the Cubs clearly didn’t understand their audience. And, fact is, if you tweet jibberish out to the masses, you’re going to get jabbed.
Someone at the Cubs should have known this.
Quite amazingly, however, they did not. But they should now know this instead: The best move is to pull Clark off of Twitter. His account is hurting his reputation far more than it’s helping, and as long as it remains active, @ClarktheCub provides critics with an easy and high-profile target for derision and ridicule.
That goes for both the mascot – and the team.
Tip No. 3: Admit you were wrong – and apologize to fans
The Cubs Convention is this weekend. And I understand that the team’s brass thought that it would be the perfect time for fans to get together and celebrate this great new mascot that the team had just rolled out.
I don’t understand why the Cubs thought that, but I understand that they did.
By now, however, it’s painfully obvious that the rollout of Clark the Cub has been an unmitigated disaster. The franchise claims that through “focus groups” it learned that fans desired a team mascot, but if that’s really true then they didn’t talk to enough fans.
Or, perhaps most likely, the Cubs talked to too many people that they wanted to be fans rather than talking to those that already are.
Anyone should know that the least of the Cubs’ problems is not having enough fans. Ticket sales are dropping like a rock because the team doesn’t win enough, tickets are overpriced and has no star players, not because it doesn’t have a mascot.
By rolling out Clark the Cub after team’s third consecutive disastrous season that’s been followed by a third consecutive offseason of doing nothing to upgrade the big league roster, the Cubs made it appear to their fans that they’re far more interested in marketing than actually winning.
Whether that’s accurate or not, that’s how it looks.
And where the Cubs need to now look is in the mirror and recognize that this extreme backlash against a silly bear is about more than a silly bear. Fans are not happy and Clark is not the cure to what ails them.
If the Cubs come clean and admit to their devoted fan base that they blew it with the mascot idea and then apologize for not doing a better job of delivering what they truly want (wins), then most will probably forgive them.
After all, Cubs fans have done that every offseason for the past 105 years.
And with a sincere apology, along with a re-branded “Kids Mascot” that isn’t making a fool out of itself on Twitter, perhaps the Cubs can actually put the franchise’s focus back where it should be: On winning a championship.
Anything else is tough to bear.