Marketers are often asked to turn lemons into lemonade--i.e. take an also-ran, or even lesser-than-the-competition product, and find a market for sales.
An off-beat example of this comes from the North Carolia Zoo, which elected to adopt a mascot to promote clean rivers. The assignment seemed direct enough--use an endangered animal, "humanize" it as a mascot, and hold it up to explain to children and adults why clean rivers are important.
So where's the "lemon" in this scenario?
Well, you see the animal that was selected to represent North Carolina's rivers is the Slimy Snot Otter.
You heard me right.
The Slimy Snot Otter, also known as a "hellbender" is a giant, slimy salamander who lives under big rocks at the bottom of streams in the Ozark and Appalachian mountains. Snot otters have been declining in the wild, for reasons that scientists don't really understand.
They're nocturnal (scary), mud-colored (ugly), prehistoric amphibians (unrelatable) and look a bit like 2-foot long eels with stubby noses (gross). Fisherman often kill the creatures on sight--simply because of their appearance.
And the piece de resistance? They have toxic skin secretions (i.e. they're slimy). The good news is that as long as you don't eat them, you're fine.
The critter--which one could call a "spokescritter," is a marketing head-scratcher.
How does one market a giant salamander that oozes a slightly toxic slime on T-shirts, educational posters, sock puppets and Christmas ornaments?
You promote the novelty of the most unlikely mascot--ever.
Decades ago, the University of California at Irvine selected an anteeater as its mascot--it is the geekiest of concepts, but it works BECAUSE of its geekiness.
The marketing team at the North Carolina Zoo is embracing the snot otter going full-steam ahead to popularize its geeky/gross mascot.
It has developed a costumed character--Snotty, a big-tailed lizard look-alike with brown skin, beady eyes and stubby teeth.
"There was really just one kid that was kind of scared of me," says Ben Stanley, 20, a student at Randolph Community College here who helped create the Snotty costume and wore it at the festival. "Most of the kids were just running all around me; one actually tried to pull my finger off."
Unfortnately, Snotty's appearances at the zoo are limited to areas where real animals can't see him, so as not to "freak them out."
You see, it seems that kids love Snotty, but real animals, and some fisherman, get freaked out by his presence.
Marketers, like kids, are drawn to the snot otter. Apparently, students in an advertising and graphic design class have pitched the zoo on options for the snot otter branding campaign.
The director of retail for the zoo's shops, was particularly taken by a T-shirt design that, against all odds, made the hellbender look like a superhero. She hopes to have the shirts in stock soon. And, the director of conservation education, picked a series of studet-designed posters with the slogan, "Ugly's Only Skin Deep." In one, a stylized hellbender poses with a panda mask perched on its head. Another features a snot otter wrapped in a pink baby blanket.
You see, marketers really know how to make lemonade from even the slimmiest, snottiest lemon.