How Chester Zoo turned its biggest challenge into a global campaign that raised millions

Faced with the threat of losing the majority of its annual visitor revenue due to the pandemic, Chester Zoo had to act quickly to ensure it could survive.

In March 2020, Chester Zoo was forced to close due to the UK-wide lockdown, suddenly faced with the threat of losing 97% of its annual visitor revenue. This threat intensified when it was announced only a few months later that all zoos would be unable to reopen for the foreseeable future.

Chester Zoo, which is owned by the North of England Zoological Society and therefore relies on public funding, moved swiftly to create a campaign to highlight loudly and clearly that the zoo would not survive without support.

‘Save Our Zoo’ was launched with two key strands: to raise awareness of the struggles faced by zoos everywhere; and to install a sense of pride in the North West and surrounding communities by positioning Chester Zoo as a powerhouse of conservation, as well as a much-loved zoo for the UK and globally. Crucially, it highlighted inconsistencies in government policies and called out inequitable decisions being made.

When the campaign launched in June 2020, traffic to Chester Zoo’s website rocketed by 300% year on year to 1 million. It made headlines all over the world and reached 40.5 million people on social media, totalling 4.8 billion engagements across all platforms.

Within six months the campaign had raised £4.8m for the Zoological Society, with £3.6m coming from donations and a further £1.2m from 22,000 new animal adoptions. Some 90 countries pledged their support to the zoo, which recorded more than 137,000 new donors, over 1,300 community fundraisers, a 283% increase in animal adoptions and a 583% increase in regular donors.

For all of this, Chester Zoo won the 2021 Marketing Week Masters award for Charities and Non-Profit.

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