The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. There are various reports on how the school’s team name came to be, but we’re going to take the word of Father Charles Michael Carey who wrote an essay on it in 1953.
He said the team was originally called the Catholics, as colleges at the time were referred to according to their denomination. In Colonial times, being Catholic was synonymous with being Irish and being Irish in the Colonial U.S. wasn’t much fun. So when denominational names began to fade, opposing teams would call them the Notre Dame Catholics “the (insert expletive of choice) Fighting Irish.” The name stuck. History lesson over. Creative begins.
Imagine the brief for a job like this. You are the creative director given a stereotype from which to create an identity, what do you do? You tell your strategy team they’re a bunch of racist clowns and try to glean the positive from the data you’re given. You look at the positive aspects of the group in question and the ideals that define your brand. In this case you would build upon the positive aspects of being hard working, you build on the reputation of having legendary coach Knute Rockne, you focus on fighting to win at all costs, a never say die attitude and dedication to the team…and then you create a leprechaun in kelly-green with his little fists poised to bare-knuckle.
Notre Dame’s fighting leprechaun mascot (original on the left) was created in 1964 for $50 by American cartoonist Theodore Drake back in the glory days of stereotyping. (Drake also created the Chicago Bulls logo.) On the face of it, it’s as ridiculous and racist as any racist sporting logo out there (see Redskins, Seminoles, Chiefs, Indians, Texans…well maybe not that last one, depending on your perspective of Texans). But rarely is there an uproar about the little leprechaun (or team name for that matter) that incorrectly symbolizes an entire country. The reason why? It doesn’t represent an entire country, it represents a football team. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had near 60 years in the bag to create a legend. So, if they wanted to add a mythical creature from Irish lore, great. It’s feisty, fun and it must be working, as according to a 2010 report from the Collegiate Merchandising Company, the Fighting Irish are number 11 with near $60 million in revenue. According to Forbes magazine they are the most valuable college football team (even under Charlie Weiss).
Stereotypes are not the same as prejudices. Stereotyping focuses on simple standard concepts of groups in question. It works to target your marketing and it works to define your brand. Take an honest look at who you are as a company, good and bad. List out all those attributes and then focus on the good ones. People identify with stereotypes, they’re comfortable and easy to recognize. Tourism organizations excel at this: Thailand and its “Land of Smiles,” and Canada is overrun with grizzlies but, thankfully, protected by policemen on horses They target what travellers want to see or what they’ve come to expect.
Stereotyping will let you know what’s comforting, what’s understood (correctly or not) and what works. And if that happens to be an angry little creature from a faraway land, so be it. This little fellow is worth $60 Mil.