Advertising, Branding, and Sponsorships in Zoos and Aquariums

By Rudy Socha

Do you associate Allstate with being green and supporting wildlife/conservation? What about Geico?

Many opportunities exist for advertisers in the affluent and unique zoo and aquarium market. Unfortunately most advertising agencies have limited experience showcasing their companies in the market.

To further baffle media and sponsorship buyers entering the market, most zoos and aquariums run three very different advertising campaigns simultaneously. Each campaign has a different goal, budget, and methodology for achieving desired results. Each segment presents an opportunity for companies to increase their brand name recognition and promote their services and products. In many cases different people are responsible for each campaign. Here is an overview of the zoo and aquarium market and the opportunities existing in it.

Because of the diversity in the manner that zoos and aquariums are structured and the difference in size and attendance, this overview is not exactly mirrored at each facility. The following is a look at the three key advertising, branding, and sponsorship areas that are vital to a zoo's or aquarium's success.

Fundraising: This is the genesis for all zoo and aquarium operations. Without financing the facility can not exist. Zoos and aquariums fall under some variation of one of these three operating structures, including corporations (Disney Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens), public (Cleveland Zoo, Detroit Zoo), or private ownership (St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Acadiana Zoo).

Because of the different structures, the fundraising takes place in many forms from conducting animal name auctions and politicking the politicians, to placing levies on the ballots.

The zoo and aquarium visitor is most familiar with fundraising dinners and other fundraising special events. These usually involve finding sponsors to underwrite the event, selling tickets, a silent auction, and either an awards ceremony or prizes to be given away.

In most cases these events are managed by an outside group of volunteers with input from the Zoo's or Aquarium's Director and Communications Manager. It is usually done under the umbrella of a zoological or aquarium Society.

The individuals buying tickets for these events are the donors, corporate CEO's, and the city's high net worth families. This is a small, but highly desirable demographic for advertisers.

Generally the advertisers most interested in reaching this group are adult beverage companies, art stores, banks, classy local restaurants, credit card companies, financial service companies, high-end jewelry stores, insurance companies, spas, and travel related companies.

"Come Visit Us" Campaign: This is the campaign to get everyone to visit their facility. This campaign's goal is two fold; generating brand recognition and increasing visitors. Each zoo and aquarium facility is competing against other entertainment venues in their geographic area for attendance and disposable dollars.

This campaign is often run by an outside advertising agency with oversight by the Communication Director with final approval by the facility Director.

The campaign usually involves purchasing television advertising, and personal appearances by the Communication Director with live animals on local TV shows. It also includes designing and purchasing travel brochures, radio and print ads, and special events that are open to the general public without an extra charge.

This is where a large part of a zoo's or aquarium's budget is spent. Each state and major city also has a travel and visitor's bureau. The amount of advertising support zoos and aquariums receive from these bureaus varies greatly.

While the "Come Visit Us" advertising purchase usually does not by itself contribute revenue to the zoo or aquarium, it does present co-branding opportunities. Most co-branding partnerships exist with local hotels, travel companies, and in some cases such as the Georgia Aquarium with other entertainment venues in town.

In-facility Branding and Sponsorships: This is where advertisers reach the greatest number of people. Most zoo and aquarium visitors are families with children who stay for between 2 ? 6 hours.

In-facility Branding and Sponsorships are usually managed by the Communications Director with input from the Zoo Director and zoo or aquarium society.

Branding opportunities exist with signage, gardens, exhibits, educational presentations, facility maps and brochures, walkways and avenues, and buildings.

Sponsorship activities include special events and special days. If an event does not currently exist, it can be created by a company to promote their product (i.e. ice cream eating contest) or company brand (i.e. branded item give-away upon admission or exit).

Although almost every consumer company is a fit for this segment of branding and sponsorships, the most applicable are amusement parks in the area, apparel stores and manufacturers, appliance manufacturers and retailers, auto dealerships and manufacturers, banks, camera stores and manufacturers, catalog, cell phone companies, children's beverage companies, computer manufacturers and retailers, fast food chains, food manufacturers (especially cereal companies), financial services, hotel chains, GPS manufacturers, insurance companies, lawn and garden care manufacturers, pet food manufacturers, restaurants, toy manufacturers, travel related companies, utilities, and wildlife non-profits.

About the Advertisers: On a local level almost every major consumer or service company has or should have an advertising, branding, or sponsorship relationship with a local zoo or aquarium. The advertisers do this with three goals in mind; generating goodwill within the community, enhancing their green/environmental image, and brand name recognition.

Most large national consumer companies maintain two separate budgets and advertising agencies to handle their campaigns; a local ad agency and budget, and a national ad agency and budget. In the past, many national campaigns did not dovetail to support the image being built in their headquarters city. That is quickly evolving as companies realize the positive bottom line results generated by creating a green image for their brand.

Advertising, branding, and sponsorships in zoos and aquariums are relatively new and are becoming increasingly popular with companies. No company can afford to allow their competitor to develop a greener image, or closer relationship with the consumer without risking the loss of market share.

For advertisers the branding venue in zoos and aquariums is a much better environment than most sporting events. Generally the advertiser alone will have the purchased space, and the average consumer will see it for a longer period of time. In the past there have been many sports venues and celebrity sponsorships that actually resulted in either creating headaches or tarnishing the image of a brand. Just ask Pepsi about the half-time show they sponsored at the Super Bowl several years ago where a wardrobe malfunction occurred!

Rudy Socha is the CEO of Zoo and Aquarium Visitor

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