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'Phil the Ram' joins the list of memorable mascots with a new feature: a bionic horn

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

He's big, he's back and he's a little lamby (ph). Phil the Ram, the mascot of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, has had a revamp just in time for the school's bicentennial. He made his debut this month with a new bionic horn. It's a nod to the school's academic past and present. Here to talk about Phil the Ram 2.0 is Dave Raymond. He's CEO of Raymond Entertainment, the man who helped create Gritty for the Philadelphia Flyers, who's now adding Phil to his list of memorable mascots. Dave Raymond, welcome.

DAVE RAYMOND: Hi. How are you? It's great to talk to you, Ayesha. And, yeah, Phil the Ram has really stepped it up, I guess.

RASCOE: Yes. So tell us the story of Phil the Ram and why he needed a revamp.

RAYMOND: When I was reached out to by Alexa Hayes, head of marketing for Thomas Jefferson University, I agreed to get together with them, and we had a mascot intervention. And they came up with a wonderful story about Phil becoming more of a beloved character by proving his resilience, proving his fearlessness when he decided to sled down a hill standing up that's famous on campus. He broke his horn, and he was devastated. The beauty of Thomas Jefferson University is one of the great things they do is they have a prosthetic lab where they create prosthetic limbs and they use some amazing technology, including carbon fiber. And so as the story goes, the university stepped up, and now he has a bionic horn, and he has been saved in a big part by the university he's always represented.

RASCOE: It's quite the story. So what makes a good mascot or character brand, I mean, because Gritty just came in and took over?

RAYMOND: But they hated him at first, and that was the...

RASCOE: No, did they? I think people loved the craziness.

RAYMOND: Well, it took two days.

RASCOE: They were like, this is so weird. It fits.

RAYMOND: Yeah, well, that was the conclusion they - the collective finally got to. But in the beginning, the trolls were very loud, and they were screaming at how, you know, this character looked like it should be eating children, not attracting children. And when from the outside, we got a dismissive tweet from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a very hated rival, suddenly our group collectively said, wait a second, he's our ugly, not yours. You can't say that. And suddenly, in 48 hours, it turned around. To answer the question, what makes a great mascot? - well, in the character brand, if you tell great, authentic stories and everything that you do is based on that story, then not only do you have success, but when people will give you a negative response, you'll have answers. If this looks like it's going to eat children, well, didn't you know this character was living under the ground for most of his life? So he's got crazy-looking eyes, and - you know, so they had fun answers to these questions...

RASCOE: Yeah.

RAYMOND: ...That were bringing the negativity. So you have to start with a great story.

RASCOE: Phil the Ram was out of commission during his makeover. When he debuted at a pep rally for the men and women's basketball teams, how was he received?

RAYMOND: Well, by all accounts in the video I watched, it was qualified success. People wanted to come up and take a picture. They were hugging him and high-fiving him and admiring his horn, and some of the people were saying, what's wrong with your horn? And that gave the opportunity for the people around Phil to say, oh, you didn't know? It was really well received, and I think better received than the way it was prior to this reboot.

RASCOE: That's Dave Raymond. He is a mascot guru and the CEO of Raymond Entertainment. Thank you so much for being with us.

RAYMOND: Oh, it's my pleasure. I really appreciate talking about the power of silliness, for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TRAVELERS' "MORNING STAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.