Demise of the Health Care Mascot

Demise of the Health Care Mascot

An offbeat marketing tactic by local health care players is no more.

Over the past decade, at least two Minnesota health-related organizations—Medtronic and HealthPartners—took an alternative approach to consumer engagement: “spokescreatures.”

First to arrive, in 2008, was HealthPartners’ Petey P. Cup, an anthropomorphic urine sample, with a needle-shaped sidekick, Pokey Syringe. At parades, Saints baseball games and other events held by the Bloomington-based insurance and care provider, “the mascots were a hit,” says Vince Rivard, senior director of communications. “They were unique and fun, which resulted in millions of impressions on social and news media, including a mention on the Today show.”

The break from traditional advertising and customer outreach had two goals: to differentiate HealthPartners brand and, chiefly, to encourage patients to sign up for online services.

Medtronic’s mascot, Lenny the Lion, was spawned in Europe in 2006 and made its way to America in 2010. “Lenny is not merely a logo, mascot, campaign idea or cartoon character,” says Danielle Swanson, spokeswoman for the medical device maker. “Rather, he plays a strategic role in how Medtronic supports the diabetes community, especially the 0-12 age group.” Lenny’s highest-profile campaigns involved a smartphone app called Carb Counting, with a YouTube video contest about diabetes management and insulin pumps. The winner won a trip to Disneyland.

Health care mascots apparently did not have the popularity or staying power of erectile dysfunction meds. Notably, both Petey and Pokey were retired within the last few years; Lenny has been inactive for just as long. “Healthcare marketing is strongly evidence based—you sell the clinical evidence much more than the image,” says Kathleen Motzenbecker, senior vice president of Golden Valley-based Medical Alley Association. “In more consumer-driven health care markets, a mascot could make sense,” she adds, “but when the audience are clinicians, evidence is what matters.” —Sam Schaust

Meet the Mascots

Petey P. Cup

  • Born: Bloomington, Minn., April 8, 2008
  • Enjoys helping with lab tests such as urinalysis and drug testing
  • Likes listening to Coldplay, “chilling at the clinic” and watching Grey’s Anatomy and ER

Pokey Syringe

  • Born: Bloomington, Minn., May 27, 2008
  • Enjoys giving immunizations and drawing samples
  • Hobbies include running, watching House and American Idol, and going out to live comedy shows (because “poking fun at people is great!”)

Lenny the Lion

  • Foreign-born, around 2006
  • Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2006
  • Loves all kinds of foods, including vegetables, bread, fruit juice and even cake (but only if he remembers to count his carbs and bolus properly)