‘Face of MLB’ Highlights Dangers of Social Contests

Sometimes even the most thought-out and well-planned marketing campaigns can go awry. This is especially the case when you attempt to use social media and assume the masses will play along. What you thought was a simple and harmless campaign can take an unexpected turn. Let’s look at this in more detail using the recent ‘Face of MLB’ contest from Twitter.

The Back Story

In order to gain momentum for the start of the 2014 MLB season, the marketing department for the league decided to initiate a Twitter contest to let fans weigh in on who should be named the “Face of MLB.” The rules were simple:

  1. Players are broken down into bracket format.
  2. Each team has one player nominated to compete with another team’s player.
  3. Twitter is allotted a time frame to vote for their favorite player by #FirstnameLastname.
  4. Whoever receives the most tweets in that matchup wins.
  5. The winning player from the first round moves on to face another winner.
  6. Eventually two players meet in the final to square off as “2014 Face of MLB.”

This was the second annual “Face of MLB” contest and the first one seemed to go over without a hiccup. What transpired this year was something that the marketing team for the MLB could never have anticipated but one that nonetheless is worth examining.

Marketing Takeaway When implementing a campaign on social media platforms like Twitter, try to keep some control over the parameters and options. It will allow you to strategize for potential pitfalls. Also, just because a campaign worked the first time does not mean that it will be as successful the next.

Eric Sogard

 ericsogard

Do you know his name? More than likely, if you were not an Oakland fan before this offseason you don’t. Heck, even if you are an Oakland fan you probably didn’t know him. He was mediocre at best and doesn’t exactly resemble what one would expect the “Face of MLB” to look like. But the marketing team for the Oakland A’s saw an opportunity and jumped on it.

Eric Sogard won the first round and steadily gained more and more votes every round as his fan base expanded. He became a social media phenomenon, a viral sensation, and as what one could surmise, a representation of mass media’s disdain with the entire campaign.

Marketing Takeaway: Just like Oakland did, you can leverage your own branding efforts by going against the grain and sometimes even by using a platform from another marketing team’s campaign.

Sogard vs Bautista

The Sogard phenomenon grew even more mainstream during a heated race against Jose Bautista in the semi -finals. Apparently Bautista took this competition very seriously and began actually campaigning against Eric Sogard. I guess his ego would be destroyed to lose to a relatively unknown player. Whatever the case, Bautista ended up begging for votes on Twitter and even pimping his fame by following anyone who followed and voted for him.

This aggressive attempt by Bautista was met with a lot of negativity by Twitter voters and even some Oakland players (not Eric Sogard though). Bautista ultimately lost, which sent Sogard to the finals to face David Wright.

Marketing Takeaway: Overly aggressive marketing efforts or smear campaigns can give audiences a muddled idea of your brand. Sometimes it’s better to take the high road than to resort to tactics that can appear desperate.

The Championship

Eric Sogard faced off (no pun intended) with David Wright in the finals of the “Face of MLB.” He held a 10% lead in voting with about two hours left. That lead slowly dropped until they were tied with roughly half an hour remaining. When the Twitter dust settled, our black horse Sogard fell short by a very small margin. Twitter Team Eric Sogard is now up in arms with the results, claiming shenanigans.

The last thing the MLB marketing team wanted when they started this contest was to have fans blatantly promoting a player that would ironically represent the “Face of MLB.” But even worse than that is an angry mob of Tweeters who are screaming conspiracy. This marketing campaign by the MLB branding department obviously took a different turn than they originally expected.

Marketing Takeaway: When planning a campaign across a large number of people — especially on social media — it is important to recognize that you do not always control the situation. Plan for all results and prepare for trolls looking to derail your campaign.

Even though David Wright won the actual competition, it’s obvious that the Oakland A’s and Eric Sogard were the marketing winners. They took what should have been a simple, boring contest and put it on its head. In doing so, they were able to highjack the campaign and warrant a much more successful result than even the creators of the contest. Keep Eric Sogard and the “Face of MLB” competition in your mind as you plan your next social media campaign, you could prevent a PR disaster.

About the author

Derek Miller

Derek Miller has an entrepreneurial spirit, scattered mind and marketing background. He’s a novice comedic who spins humor into sports columns on his personal site Fantasy Help. You can follow him on Twitter @itisMillerTime