There was a garden gnome frenzy in Washington, DC, last Thursday. And it offers a great example of how you can energize your brand fans.

Let me explain.

On August 5, the Washington Nationals (aka, my local baseball team) gave away 25,000 garden gnomes of right-fielder Jayson Werth to fans. This is a player whose walk-up batter’s music includes the theme from Game of Thrones and the chorus of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London.

In other words, he has a sense of humor. Which probably explains the garden gnome.

Jayson Werth Garden Gnome

This guy was a big hit.

The gnome started showing up everywhere. Teammates moved him around the dugout. Fans took pictures of the gnome in all kinds of places.

Now fast forward to October 2, the day before the Nationals playoffs were scheduled to begin. The organization hid almost 100 gnomes all over the greater Washington area. Six of the gnomes included signed playoff tickets (a very hot ticket) signed by the athlete.

Build on the buzz you already have.

Werth Gnome Scavenger Hunt

The organization did several things right to engage their fans:

  • They built their campaign on a fan meme (i.e., the passion was organic).
  • They created a descriptive hashtag, #WerthGoesGnome.
  • They tweeted out clues.

And they retweeted fan photos. This was one of my favorites:

In other words, they engaged not just their biggest fans but also the broader community. In the process, they garnered huge publicity ahead of the event itself (the playoffs). And, of course, they also got a lot of media coverage of excited fans (i.e., brand evangelists).

They kept the theme going by lining the outfield warning track with gnomes before Game 1.

Do the unexpected.

Fans expect t-shirts and rally towels.

The scavenger hunt, however, was completely unexpected. It not only connected more people to the team but also to each other. Which, of course, is what you need to maintain an engaged community.

What can you do to build buzz and engage participants around your next event?