Surprising absolutely no one, the Maryland Jockey Club announced Monday Kegasus, the tweeting centaur, would return as the official mascot of the Preakness Infield.
This was a move that was more or less predicted back in February, when several media watchers saw a new anonymous advertising campaign as the Jockey Club's transparent bid to create some mystery around the event.
In February, the drum beat for Preakness began with an anonymous advertising campaign premised on the idea that the fictional character Kegasus had disappeared, and two new characters, the Easter Bunny and a leprechaun, should replace it as the mascot.
Consisting of billboards and a social media campaign with handsomely-produced videos and outreach, the campaign had a professional imprimatur and seemed like a teaser for Kegasus' eventual return.
"As they unveil this slowly, the re-emergence of Kegasus would be the next piece of the story," Rebecca Hamilton, a professor at the University of Maryland, said then.
But, the Maryland Jockey Club and Elevation Ltd., which handles all marketing for the Preakness Stakes, denied it came from them. This, despite a sloppy screw-up in one of the Facebook profiles that linked back to Elevation's official website.
Yet, today, like clockwork, the last chapter of a story no one was particularly invested in was predictably unveiled: Kegasus is back everyone! The bawdy centaur will be making his grand appearance March 30 at Pimlico Race Track and later at the Orioles' Opening Day April 6.
This time, he'll also have a side-kick: Uni-Carl, a half-man, half-unicorn.
Without making a reference to the anonymous campaign, Elevation and the Maryland Jockey Club are proud of what it sees as innovative marketing.
"We are honored to work hand-in-hand with the Maryland Jockey Club to evolve last year's campaign, bringing a fresh look to what's become a fun and engaging icon," said Jim Learned, Elevation's president in today's announcement.
Bringing the character back was a logical step. It gives the principals a strategy that has already delivered - Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas credits Kegasus with helping ticket sales last year.
But, if the stealth campaign was an attempt to create excitement for this moment, it misfired badly.
It succeeded only in bringing in a paltry 191 likes to the Facebook page of one of the new characters.
Creating a stealth campaign fits in with Elevation's unconventional marketing tactics, but it also comes with some risk: "While you may think you're pulling one over on everybody, there is just as a great a risk that it'll do damage and people will take great pride in exposing you," Chris Harris, a Johns Hopkins marketing professor said at the time.
The low impact of the Easter Bunny and leprauchaun campaigns suggests that people either recognized Elevation's fingerprints, didn't care for the gamble, or just weren't impressed. These days, as a new Newsweek story outlines, it pays to take risks with high-concept campaigns.
Against this new environment, a stealth campaign, something that was first innovative in the early 2000s, came across as outdated as one of Don Draper's gimmicks.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun