The New York Mets' front office has made itself a villain in its handling of R.A. Dickey's Kilimanjaro mountain-climbing expedition. The solution to the marketing problem: Embrace the villainy.
The baseball club can solve its image problem almost overnight if the front office remembers that in sports, entertainment, and other fields where business leadership works behind the scenes, managers can get a long way by throwing themselves under the bus.
For anyone who hasn't been checking the teapot for tempests lately, R.A. Dickey, a durably reliable pitcher for the Mets, decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, as part of a celebrity charity operation that would raise money for an anti-sex-trafficking organization in India.
Normally this might have gotten three minutes of airplay, or possibly eventually become a movie if Kevin Costner suddenly needed money again, except that the Mets business office sternly threatened to invoke clauses that would let them cancel his multimillion-dollar contract if he were injured on Kilimanjaro. The Mets' position of "never mind those Indian girls, your arm is our property" catapulted the story into the headlines. It was immediately taken up in the sports fan blogosphere, with Dickey's supporters considerably outnumbering and out-enthusing Mets-management supporters.
Dickey reached the summit on January 14, giving the Mets some of the best publicity they've had in a long time, and he's fine. Management now looks like a pack of nervous nellies who don't recognize a real hero when he bites them.
This can be a first-rate opportunity for the Mets, if they're smart enough to use it.
Here's the takeaway lesson: When your public face is different from management, and the company screws up, smart management will throw itself under the bus, preserve the popularity of their public face, and reap rich rewards.
How many more Mets fans will buy more tickets or merchandize, or tune in more often because they like Dickey? How many parents, happy to have a genuinely impressive sports hero for their children, will recruit a whole next generation of fans? The message the Mets need to send: Support R.A. Dickey, because wicked, soulless management couldn't stop him from following his dream and doing the right thing! Stick it to the Man! Buy Mets tickets and merchandise!
This tactic has been working here in Denver for the Broncos; a part of Tim Tebow's fascination for locals is that Broncos' management refused for three months to commit to him as starting quarterback, only deciding after their season ended. You don't have to listen very long in any bar or coffeehouse here to hear someone expressing sympathy for Tebow: Imagine, the poor guy is working his heart out and his boss won't even say whether he has a job next year! That's not just good for Tebow's image -- it's good for the Broncos' revenue stream, as people mob up to "support Tim."
Any number of books, plays, and movies have been advertisted as "They didn't want you to see it!" Who is they? Those people collecting all that money for delivering it to you. Unh-hunh, sure, they didn't want you to see it.
Plenty of people irritated by Steve Jobs went right on buying Apple stuff in part to support those nice kids at the Genius Bar. Notoriously starting with Star Trek, several networks have been "forced" by irate fans to continued to make money with a formerly-fading franchise.
When studio executives told Jerry Lewis to recut his episodic comedy, The Bellboy, into a coherent plot, instead he just added two minutes at the beginning, mocking studio executives and coherent plots; not only did the public love it, so did the executives (thus proving this strategy works better with management who can take a joke).
If the Mets management is smart, they could be humiliated all the way to the bank.
How Edmunds.com Measures Results From TV Commercials
Video: Matthew Broderick Reprises Ferris Bueller for Honda Super Bowl Commercial
Marketers Amplify Super Bowl Ads With Digital Tools
— John Barnes is a marketing intelligence analyst pioneering the commercial application of statistical semiotics. He is also the freelance author of 29 published novels and hundreds of articles and short stories.