EcoKat goes viral, confusion ensues

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She’s a K-State student armed with a costume made of 90-percent repurposed materials. Her mission: reduce, reuse and recycle. However, it appears that K-State’s “crusader of conservation,” EcoKat, will not be around to see whether K-State beats KU in the Take Charge Challenge, which ends Sept. 30.

News of EcoKat went viral on Tuesday evening. It was trending nationwide on Twitter by Wednesday afternoon. As of 3:50 p.m., EcoKat was trending in Wichita, Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City, Overland Park and Washington, D.C., according to trendsmap.com.

The hashtag #EcoKat was made popular by confused and disgruntled students, alumni and fans, as well as several fictional Twitter accounts and other sports enthusiasts.

“I’ve seen a bunch of KU tweets talking about how dumb it was, so I just tweeted back that this is going to be the most embarrassing thing around until KU puts a team on the football field,” said Jeff Kuhlman, senior in history.

By 4:30 p.m., EcoKat had even made it to the front page of the Huffington Post’s college page, simply headlined with “What?” She was the butt of jokes on many sports blogs and Twitter accounts.

Visit k-state.edu/ecokat now and where once EcoKat was prominently placed on the site next to the athletic mascot Willie the Wildcat, she is now nowhere to be found.

Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, said the decision to remove EcoKat from the page was made due to the nature of the tweets and comments being made about her, adding that the recent scrutiny of EcoKat has detracted from her goal to promote K-State in the Take Charge Challenge.

“EcoKat is one of our students,” Morris said. “There are a lot of people that have a misconception of EcoKat. She is not an athletic mascot.”

The confusion over EcoKat’s purpose has left many students with questions.

“I don’t see why we would want anything other than Willie,” said Lauren Wissman, senior in accounting. “I don’t really picture a Superman suit, but you have to make an image so it was just something new, I’m sure everybody was kind of shocked by it.”

K-State president Kirk Schulz dealt with the topic of EcoKat on and off on Wednesday.

“It’s unfortunate that it was a creative idea that, by going viral, we’ve lost some ability to kind of manage what it was supposed to represent,” he said. “But people just need to relax, we’re not making this big change at the institution. I’m hopeful that within a few days, things will have calmed down, it won’t be nationally newsworthy.”

Both Schulz and Morris said EcoKat had no connection to the athletic department, but adding to the confusion, pictures circulated only days ago of EcoKat standing next to Willie the Wildcat.

Schulz and Morris added that she will lay low before the program is completely halted, and if she becomes a distraction to the institution, the program will be terminated.

Nancy Muturi, public relations sequence head in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said though she was not familiar with EcoKat, the reason that such campaigns fail is typically due to a lack of connection with the audiences they are trying to reach.

“They need to be able to try to understand the audience that they’re targeting,” Muturi said. “If they don’t involve the people they are trying to reach, then that is not going to work out.”

Joseph Burgett, senior in mechanical engineering, had never heard of EcoKat until today, but said he didn’t know if she was necessary.

“I figure, Willie and green, that’s the only EcoKat I know,” he said.

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