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Colleges May Have Fumbled the Mascot Rebrand

Sarah Steimer

The master brand of colleges and universities is often tightly intertwined with schools’ athletics programs.

Students come together under the institution’s iconic colors and logos, magnetic mascots and fans’ chants that echo throughout the stadium. It’s a unifying experience, one that continues when alumni don their old college T-shirt and turn on Saturday football games.

“Having a symbol that people can recognize on a sweatshirt is something that brings the community together,” says Michael Lewis, a professor of marketing at Emory University. “Football and basketball, in particular, represent the touch points for the whole community. Whether or not that’s how academia should be, that’s how academia is. That’s the incident that bonds people together.”

When that community is stripped of its collective imagery, it presents the institution with the great challenge of rallying the troops under a new banner. With the emotional connection that so many students form with their school, changing the mascot is akin to Disney dropping Mickey Mouse. That is, if Mickey were also offensive to an entire culture.

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Sarah Steimer is managing editor of Marketing News. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.