Vol. 6, Issue 3, April 8, 2008
Cartoon Leper Named Nation's Worst Mascot
A misguided PR effort by Chicago's St. Benedict's Hospital led to the facility receiving the dubious "Raspberry Award" from the Public Relations Society of North America, with the 2007 introduction of its vastly unpopular mascot, "Lucky the Leper-Chaun".
"They apparently thought that Lucky would be able to leverage Chicago's strong Irish heritage as well as put a positive face on a traditionally debilitating disease," said Marcy Benton, President of the PR Society. "At least we think that was the idea. It is equally plausible that 'Lucky' was conceived as part of a dare, or - we are speculating - as the result of a drinking contest among the St. Benedict's upper management."
The mascot consists of a leprechaun with visible signs of leprosy, his cheerful demeanor strikingly at odds with his appearance, which represents the first cartoon leper since a little-seen 1941 Looney Toons feature.
"Sadly, Lucky was not the only contender for this award," noted Benton. "The Erasmus Children's Hospital entry, 'Captain Scabies', was a close second. But what clinched it for Lucky was the fact that his left arm has apparently fallen off and is being brandished like a flag in his right hand. That's just not right."
Hospitals have a very mixed record with mascots, with some going so far as to house a live animal (e.g. Harry, the Huygens Hospital Llama), while others prefer to spend their PR budgets on fighting the inevitable stream of medical scandals (both spurious and genuine) that all such facilities face each year.
"Well, they're not sure how to brand themselves," said Karl Greene, professor of marketing at the University of Chicago. "On the one hand, hospitals want to project an aura of dignified competence. They also want to seem as high-tech as possible, of course, without getting into science-fiction territory. And they want to seem warm and welcoming, especially if they deal with a lot of children. In short, they're trying to be all things to all people, and doing none of them particularly well. Especially with the children."
A recent survey done at a British hospital astonished administrators when 100% of the children participating said they were actually afraid of the clowns painted throughout the children's ward.
"We think it must be the colors used," mused London hospital director Gwendolyn Percy. "It can't be the clowns themselves; children love clowns. Everyone knows that. Clearly, we need another study. And maybe a bigger clown for a mascot."
In a similar vein, St. Benedict's has indicated it will be keeping Lucky for the duration, despite the criticism levelled at the misconceived mascot.
"There's something about persevering cheerfully in the face of serious illness that we think makes Lucky an effective symbol for our institution," said St. Benedict's director Hans Jerrod. "Besides, we have $3 million invested in this PR campaign. You wouldn't want us to be fiscally irresponsible and just toss it, would you?"