Lessons sports teams can learn from the “Clark the Cub” debacle

“Debacle” might be a strong word, but I’d argue it’s apt, considering that the debut of the Cubs’ new mascot, Clark the Cub, was national news. And not in the good way. Despite the fact that the Cubs have unlimited marketing resources at their disposal, they seemed surprised by the backlash against Clark. Even though the team said they knew the storm was coming, their statement the evening of Clark’s debut that they were “standing by their mascot” seemed to belie that fact.  I’d also argue that when a significant portion of people believe your mascot debut was the work of The Onion, it probably didn’t go that well.

For the last several years, I’ve advised bloggers and brands on managing their social media presence. This means reading lots and lots of analytics and watching lots and lots of poor unfortunate souls make terrible mistakes on a brand’s behalf so I could learn from it. If I had known that Clark was coming (and I’ll hand it to the Cubs, they did a great job of keeping his creation a secret), I could have predicted the Twitter firestorm over him miles away.  Here’s why:

1.  The Cubs assumed they need to push Clark out on several social media platforms immediately: The first many fans heard of Clark was when the Cubs announced his presence on Twitter. This was followed, almost immediately, by a tweet from Clark, in which he used baby-talk gibberish to explain he was new to Twitter. Undoubtedly, some 20-year old intern thought the baby-talk was totally adorbs, but it fell flat with Twitter, which skews much younger, snarkier, and trends much more towards mob mentality than, say, Facebook. Thinking that a brand needs to launch simultaneously on several different platforms at once is a mistake a lot of brands make.


The fact is that every social media platform has a different “personality,” a different demographic, a different flow. Accordingly, they all have different voices and should be used differently. Master one before you move on to the others.  There’s really no place for baby-talk on Twitter, and launching Clark with that tweet was a serious misstep.

2. They didn’t know Clark’s audience:  Given that he’s a giant stuffed bear who speaks gibberish, I’m guessing Clark’s audience is kids 10 and under  (and honestly, 10 might be a little on the old side). Kids must be at least 13 years old to be on Twitter, so the Cubs should have know that it wasn’t the best forum in which to reach the target demographic. Of course, the Cubs are also trying to reach the parents of the target audience, but Twitter isn’t the best forum for them, either. In 2013, only 19% of Twitter users were between 30 and 49 years of age, while 69% of Facebook users were in that age group, making it much more likely that the parents of Clark’s audience were over on Facebook (and probably Pinterest), where there is a huge quantity of highly successful parenting content.

And while it may surprise Twitter fans (of which I am one), Facebook has historically been much, much more valuable in reaching a wider audience than Twitter, which is only used by 18% of all internet users. Comparatively, Facebook is used by 71 % of all internet users. In terms of ROI, Facebook has been and continues to be the much more valuable medium.

3. They didn’t gauge the mood of the fans on Twitter:  While the Cubs fans over on Facebook are generally pretty positive, there is a huge faction of Cubs fans on Twitter that are the exact opposite, most likely due to the fact that Twitter skews much younger then Facebook and sports fans skew more male. Many Twitter users in that group have, for months, been expressing frustration with the lack of free agent signings this off-season and, given that the Cubs have lost 100 games the last two years in a row, Twitter users were hardly in the mood to get excited about a giant, baby-talking bear.

Listening to followers and fans on social media is just as big a part of social media as posting and tweeting. This is why it’s important for brands to to follow, respond, and engage with fans who routinely disagree with them. There’s a large faction of Cubs fans who love everything the team does. There’s a large faction of Cubs fans who will criticize everything the team does. If the Cubs had been listening to both sides of Twitter, they may have known to tone down Clark’s launch on Twitter.

While I initially said that Clark shouldn’t be on Twitter, I’ve softened a bit on that stance, though I still think the Cubs bungled the whole roll out. What the Cubs should have done was launched Clark on the parent-friendly Facebook with a big splash. Due to all the photos we’ve been seeing of Clark with pediatric cancer patients and other sick children, an Instagram account was a no-brainer, as well.  But I would have stayed off Twitter for a few days, let the dust the Cubs say they knew was coming settle, and then, quietly, launch him on Twitter. And I would have started with the photos of Clark with various children, because it’s hard for anyone to hate that. After all, it’s not necessary for brands to have ENORMOUS followings on every, single social media platform. I advise brands to find their audience, figure out which 2-3 platforms they are on, and then concentrate their efforts there.

Given the Cubs’ reach and (inexplicable) appeal, it’s likely Clark would have found his Twitter followers in no time, even without a huge launch, and it would probably have happened without the Cubs having to suffer the indignity of Deadspin photoshopping a penis onto him. On top of that, it was an absolute no-brainer that the baby-talk was not the kind of thing that would go over well with the average Twitter user. Yes, there are millions of people who use Twitter for a variety of different reasons, but there are also definite trends, both demographic and subject, on each social media platform. These trends are easily identifiable to any brand who is willing to look and listen. While reasonable people can certainly disagree on whether the Cubs deserved the backlash for the ham-handed way they rolled Clark out, I have a hard time garnering much sympathy for brands that have marketing professionals in-house who are unable to figure this stuff out.

Also? Pants would have been a big help.

10 thoughts on “Lessons sports teams can learn from the “Clark the Cub” debacle

  1. Peter V. Bella says:

    The Yankees do not have a n=mascot. They use their players for charity and kids charity events. The pin striped clad team does not need a mascot, as even their mediocre players are idols in New York. I suggest Clark wear mweggings bought from the Chicago company, Meggings Man Clothes.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your post here is as silly as you arguing with people on Twitter about whether or not the Cubs should have blah, blah, blah, Clark, blah, blah, blah. Only you clearly weren’t over whatever people said to you on Twitter, so you ran to your website to blog about it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Clark has only 18 tweets and already 7,316 followers. You jelly, or have your 76.2K tweets been time/life well spent?

  4. Lynn Pounian says:

    Admit it, Anonymous, you’re Clark the Cub after a few Old Styles.

  5. Doc Blume says:

    4. Pants

  6. juliedicaro says:

    Why the hell wouldn’t I? That’s why I have a blog. It’s hard to lay out an argument 140 characters at a time.

  7. juliedicaro says:

    Also, if you want to come out from behind your anonymous handle, we can talk about it. If you aren’t brave enough to put your name and face behind what you say, then get lost.

  8. Doc Blume says:

    I’m pretty sure “anonymous” is really Clark.

  9. NotAgain says:

    I’m pretty sure “anonymous” is a fuckwit.

  10. Doc Blume says:

    So you are saying that Clark is a fuckwit?

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