How David Attenborough and talking animals are helping ZSL fill its £12m budget hole

The Zoological Society of London, which owns London and Whipsnade zoos, is hoping a two-pronged marketing strategy focused on families and fellows can help it attract the donations it needs to survive the coronavirus crisis.

Sir David Attenborough may be a mainstay on British TV, but one thing he doesn’t usually do is lend his recognisable voice to advertising campaigns. The coronavirus crisis, however, has changed that.

For the first time, Attenborough lent his voice to a TV appeal – to raise funds for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and its two zoos, London and Whipsnade. Painting a stark picture of the challenge the institution faces to recoup a £12m hole in its budget after it was forced to close for four months due to the pandemic, the campaign highlights ZSL’s zoos and the breadth of its science and conservation work.

The campaign is part of a two-pronged strategy ZSL has been operating since the start of lockdown to target its two different audiences. The serious tone struck in Attenborough’s appeal, while aimed at the public in general, is more focused on its audience of fellows and patrons who tend to be more academic, older, international and interested in its conservation work.

It is a sharp contrast to the follow-up activity that sees celebrities including Catherine Tate, Jonathan Ross and Meera Syal voice zoo animals including a technologically inept giraffe and two hash-tagging lemurs plotting how to save their home. This creative is aimed at its ‘member’ demographic – typically families more engaged with the zoo aspect of its work.

ZSL’s chief marketing and engagement officer, Nigel Campbell, tells Marketing Week: “From the start of lockdown we’ve had this dual track because as an organisation there are different audiences that engage with us in very different ways.

“One looks at the serious side of, say, zoonotic diseases and the need for us to continue our research work to protect humankind from further diseases that hop from wildlife to humans, while at the same time doing zookeeper video diaries and Facebook Lives, and asking people to donate in a very zoo-focused, charming, animal engagement kind of way.”

Having joined in April 2019 as ZSL’s first head of marketing and engagement, Campbell could never have predicted how his job would change within a year of taking on the role. He has moved from a focus on ZSL’s 200-year strategy and purpose of a ‘world where wildlife thrives’, to a fight for its very existence.

Campbell sees marketing as key to that, with ZSL promising to “leave no avenue unexplored” in its quest to maximise awareness of the charity’s plight. Both campaigns, which were created by Wunderman Thompson pro bono, are running in print, digital and TV in what is its biggest ever fundraising drive

However Campbell believes the sign of a good marketer is one that can be “flexible”. While admitting the past few months have been “challenging”, they do not, he says, impact the charity’s strategy, simply the tactics and messaging it will use to achieve it.

“The mix of how we achieve [the charity’s goals] has to react to circumstances. You would expect that over a strategy that spans six years or more because if it was all in aspic in probably wouldn’t work! It has to be a dynamic strategy rooted in key pillars,” he explains.

How Covid boosted awareness

While coronavirus has thrown up challenges, there have been opportunities too. Campbell says ZSL would usually have to invest a large chunk of its marketing budget into awareness, but the closure of the zoos and its current plight have boosted awareness, meaning it can focus that money on other areas.

Key for ZSL is getting people further down the marketing funnel, from consideration and into conversion. Particularly as it is hoping its fundraising appeal will raise £1m a month.

“This crisis, although we’ve been closed, has given us an opportunity to really dial up that awareness level using other routes – for example earned media and pro bono work we’ve done with the comedians creative. That has given a huge boost to the awareness phase of marketing, which previously we might have had to invest money in,” he says.

“That means we can look again at our marketing mix and say maybe we can invest more in the consideration and conversion side. It’s given us a platform that has raised general awareness, which has been a golden opportunity for us.”

ZSL has also found new ways to engage with people during the crisis using digital channels and content. “It has opened up whole new avenues for us to engage people,” says Campbell. “That has definitely translated into people rediscovering the zoos – it almost feeds back into magnifying the impact of our usual marketing spend.”

This crisis, although we’ve been closed, has given us an opportunity to really dial up that awareness level.

Nigel Campbell, ZSL

ZSL will need the campaign to be a success with the future existence of the organisation literally on the line. Filling that £12m hole is the main aim, both through appealing to individuals who might be able to give larger sums and the general public.

Previously, ZSL has not focused so much on small, regular individual giving but had been dialling that up over the past year. This latest push is its “biggest and most elaborate”, says Campbell, and an approach it wants to explore further particularly because, with the zoos now reopen, it needs to remind people it’s not “job done”.

“In some ways our job is harder now than when we were closed, in that we need to counter the assumptions that it’s all fine. We have lost four months of the very peak earning periods of our year,” he says.

“We’ve got a £12m hole in our budgets thanks to Covid so we are looking at a whole variety of ways we can raise a good chunk of that money.”

Another opportunity coronavirus has thrown up is raising awareness of the importance of wildlife and biodiversity, and the impact encroaching into natural environments can have on zoonotic diseases, both among the public and with governments.

“Covid has stopped that being something that is vague and ‘over there’ to suddenly critical to our health, our jobs and our economies,” Campbell concludes.

“Climate change has been a great example of global cooperation, but biodiversity is like a poor relation of climate change. This has focused the international community’s sense of really having to get to grips with this. It has really put a new lens on it.”



    Leave a comment