A dog’s life: Blue II keeps spotlight on Butler
Since Butler captivated the country with its run to the national
title game, he’s gotten the grand tour at the Indianapolis 500,
been invited to New York and done more photo shoots than he can
If he could count, that is.
Blue II, Butler’s English bulldog mascot, has used his prime
camera time during the Final Four and some creative social
networking to become a ”bone fide” celebrity, generating plenty
of free publicity for his small Indianapolis school in the
”It’s huge. In today’s landscape of higher education, you
really are trying to set yourself apart and you’ve got to do it in
a way that’s genuine because people will see right through you if
it’s not,” said Michael Kaltenmark, Blue II’s owner and a member
of Butler’s development staff. ”It needs to fit within your brand,
too. You don’t want to come across as something you’re not.”
Mascots have been around almost as long as universities, symbols
designed to capture the ”personality” of a team or school and
make it that much more appealing. Leland Stanford Junior University
doesn’t seem nearly so stuffy after watching the antics of The Tree
for a bit. One look at Mike the Tiger, and you know better than to
mess with LSU.
But the best mascots not only personify their school, they
become its brand, effortless advertising that no high-priced
marketing campaign can beat.
”The really original ones become part of the identity and have
a lot of value in that respect,” said John Sweeney, director of
sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. ”It’s
effortless when it works, but you can’t force that. They have this
emotional power that’s real in the world of marketing and
Take Georgia’s Uga, the quintessential mascot.
Frank ”Sonny” Seiler never imagined the universal appeal Uga
would have when he donated an all-white English bulldog to his alma
mater in 1956. But people have gravitated to the dogs – Uga VIII
will be introduced at Saturday’s homecoming game against Vanderbilt
– to the point where they’ve become synonymous with Georgia.
”He is the rallying point for the Bulldog Nation,” athletic
director Greg McGarity said.
And a reference point for everybody else.
See a white bulldog in a red jersey and spiked collar and you
immediately think of Georgia. The university uses Uga in
fundraising campaigns and other promotions, and his endorsements
with blue chip companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Kodak
have brought in big bucks for Georgia.
”Without him, they would really have to look around to find an
icon that could replace him,” said Seiler, who takes great care
not to oversell Uga and cheapen his image. ”I think he’s a very
valuable asset to the University of Georgia.”
The University of Mississippi’s search for a new mascot took on
cult-fad status across the country with those ESPN ads featuring
Admiral Ackbar (the ”rebel” from the Star Wars movies, get it?).
The ”Rebel Black Bear” won out with 62 percent of the vote in a
final poll, not that the announcement Thursday stopped fans from
bickering about the choice.
Kaltenmark wasn’t thinking about Blue’s marketing possibilities
when he and his wife brought the beige-and-white bundle of fur home
six years ago. Kaltenmark, a Butler grad, just thought it would be
fun to have a dog and, better yet, one that was his alma mater’s
But Kaltenmark also recognized the uniqueness of a live
There are only a few around the country, and fans are on a
first-name basis with the most famous. (Think Uga, Ralphie, Bevo.)
Butler may not be as big as Georgia or Texas, but Kaltenmark
thought Blue might be another way for people to connect with the
Besides the traditional appearances with the athletic teams,
Blue does meet-and-greets with prospective students and other
campus visitors. What really sets Blue apart, though, is the
personality Kaltenmark has given him on Twitter and Facebook.
”I just channel what I think he would say or how he’d respond,
and think that’s been the key,” he said.
Blue has the swagger you’d expect from a bulldog, a little cocky
but in a cute way. Fans have gotten to know his daily routine, his
friends and his likes (ice cream, chew toys, his new parking spot)
and dislikes (thunder, fireworks, anything related to Duke).
And people love it.
He’s up to almost 2,200 followers on Twitter, more than double
his number before the Final Four. Granted, those aren’t Kanye West
numbers, but consider that some of those folks following him had
absolutely no connection to Butler before Blue.
The pictures Blue posts on photo-sharing site Flickr are an even
bigger hit. During the Final Four, Blue’s pictures were drawing a
whopping 9,000 to 10,000 views a day. That’s tailed off since then,
but he’s still drawing 300 to 1,000 views of his photos every
”A basic element of branding is to have a relationship with a
consumer – current students, alums, general sports fans. It’s an
instantaneous identifier,” said Chris Cakebread, an advertising
professor at Boston University. ”Whether it be the USC Trojan, the
(Notre Dame) Leprechaun, the (Syracuse) Orange, kids like them,
teens like them, unhappy people like them. Even the other team
”They make you feel good.”
Although there’s no way to quantify if Blue’s newfound
popularity has translated into cold, hard cash, any positive
interest in a school is a bonus.
Not to mention that the sight of Blue is a reminder to alums and
outsiders of Butler’s feel-good run to the Final Four.
”We’re really making a name for ourselves (at Butler),”
Kaltenmark said, ”and Blue’s been a big part of it.”