How Gritty Understands His Audience, Flies on Social Media

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Even before Gritty spent part of this Saturday night streaking in front of nearly 70,000 hockey fans in Lincoln Financial Field, the Flyers mascot laid a streak of lightning across social media with his irreverent debut in September 2018. Everything from his origin story to taunting the rival team on Twitter showed Gritty got his Philly fans, the first marketing challenge for all brands.

As Brian Howard of Philadelphia magazine put it on Jan. 12 in “How the Flyers’ Social Media Geniuses Made the World Love Gritty”:

“Within hours, the mascot was on Good Morning America. A few days later, it was clowning with Fallon. SNL and John Oliver and Conan all did their takes. Gritty was trending for days, producing some 4.8 billion views across TV and the web, worth an estimated $162 million of exposure in its first month.”

The First Rule of Sports Fans

Only fans of a particular team are allowed to talk trash about that team. In Philly, that even extends to the mascots. The Flyers marketing team knew that about that Philly fan psychology from the beginning.

And within an hour of Gritty’s social media debut, the Flyers’ rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, gave Gritty’s marketing team a present: “lol ok”

Howard points out in a NSFW analysis:

“While the Twitter roast of Gritty would continue for most of the rest of the day, spreading out from Philly like an epidemic, that clapback contained multitudes. It drew a line in the sand. It said, If you fuck with the Flyers — if you fuck with Philly — I, Gritty, can’t be held responsible for what happens next. So when the Twitter storm left Philly, when it became the rest of the country piling on, the tide turned. It’s one thing for Philadelphians to give the Flyers mascot a raft of shit. It’s quite another for anyone else to. And that’s how a supposed marketing fail pivoted into the most successful mascot launch basically ever — and a full-fledged international obsession.”

Keep the Audience Involved

Because the Flyers embraced how its hockey fans treated Gritty, as one of their own, marketers knew they’d eventually identify with and love Gritty.

After all, this is the same city that made this NSFW post-World Series scene famous:

So the Flyers watched as fans started to create similarly irreverent memes.

As I wrote on Sept. 26:

“Here’s one of my theories: Gritty spurs the imagination. If the Flyers embrace the irreverent things being said about Gritty, they can make the fans feel special. And as just about every marketer who’s ever run a contest knows, customers like other customers to see their creations.”

For instance, here’s a tweet from Gritty’s debut:

And here’s a recent tweet:

And the Flyers Are in on the Joke

A “naked” Gritty did a belly slide on the kiddie ice rink in order to evade capture by stadium “security” on Saturday night.

Before Gritty, the Flyers had been the least talked-about Philly sports franchise. Now, Gritty is the city. Fittingly, the Flyers are also wild cards for the playoffs.

In my September article, I wrote:

“Another way the Flyers are working toward having the hockey team stay front-of-mind is Gritty is absurd. Much like the @Wendys about-face and the @KFC absurdity, @GrittyNHL has a voice.”

Here’s more of that voice from Saturday, which Gritty posted for his 234,000 Twitter followers:

What do you think, marketers?

Please respond in the comments section below.

Heather Fletcher is a freelance reporter for Adweek. She covers performance and direct marketing.