Administrators rebuffed reports last week that the University was phasing out its unofficial hippo mascot, saying it was never discussed by the senior administration and that the bookstore stopped ordering hippo apparel because of a “misunderstanding.”
The Hatchet reported Thursday morning that the University was phasing out the hippo in merchandise and at University events because of legal and branding reasons, according to GW’s licensing coordinator and a spokesman for Follett, which manages the GW Bookstore.
“Counter to the implications of the story, there has been no high-level decision to do away with our unofficial mascot, which is a great part of our culture and lore at GW,” said Barbara Porter, chief of staff for University President Steven Knapp.
On Wednesday, Follett Director of Public and Campus Relations Elio DiStaola said that the University’s licensing department had asked them not to reorder hippo apparel in the bookstore.
“Each season, we review our selection and marks with the University (licensing.),” DiStaola wrote in an e-mail. “Based on that review, it was deemed that we should phase out of the hippo imprinted merchandise.”
John Och, the University’s coordinator for licensing and trademarks, said on Wednesday that the school was concerned with using the hippo on apparel because it is not an official logo of GW and not legally protected.
“In terms of imprinted stuff, we’re moving away from that,” Och said. He added that the mascot was to be used less at University events.
“We are trying to get better brand recognition in the national collegiate market as GW,” Och said. “The hippo is not a registered mascot and it’s better for us to put forward one unified brand.”
Och declined to comment when reached on Friday.
Helen Cannaday Saulny, assistant vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, which oversees licensing and trademarks, said on Friday that her office has been reviewing whether or not to make the hippo an official GW “mark” like the Colonial – unregistered marks provide little protection against misuse. Saulny said she thought the bookstore was ordering “limited things” until they made a decision, but this was misinterpreted as a directive to not reorder hippo apparel.
University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said, “There has been a misunderstanding between the bookstore and the University.”
Saulny’s office began more actively discussing the hippo’s role at the University this spring, after years of promoting the unregistered mascot, Saulny said. They needed to determine whether they would include it in their “logo sheet” of registered marks.
“We need to have discussions on what the hippo and Colonial mean when it comes to branding GW,” Saulny said, noting that alumni are often confused by the unofficial mascot.
Saulny, Schario and Sports Information Director Brad Bower said the athletics department expressed an interest in primarily promoting the Colonial mascot at games – especially after George’s redesign this summer – in order to not confuse audiences.
Officials denied, however, that the hippo was being used less in other University events.
Robert Chernak, senior vice president for SASS, said in an interview Saturday that discussions about the hippo’s role on campus never reached him or senior administrators. Chernak was contacted for comment on Wednesday afternoon, but deferred licensing inquiries to Och.
Saulny said the bookstore has ordered new hippo apparel this week which will be arriving soon.