If the companies using endangered animals in their advertising campaigns also invested in saving those same species, we could rescue the tigers, elephants, and other charismatic creatures for everyone to enjoy. It would be a win-win for the companies and the planet. Madison Avenue’s favorite species are on the brink of extinction. The time is now for flashing lights, big ideas, and big action.
Leaving a Legacy: “Apple has saved the snow leopards!” Imagine the legacy that an Apple could leave. Imagine the positive goodwill for their brand if Apple brought these big cats back from the brink. They would be a hero worldwide. Plus, their brand would be associated with a thriving species, not a defunct one. Defend your species from extinction, and you will be rewarded. Every company that leverages big wildlife for self-promotion has an opportunity to become superman in the public’s eye.
Shareholder Value: The companies that have tied their brand equity to endangered species have a vested interest in keeping them alive. No one wants to buy a Dodo Bird car. Having invested millions of dollars in advertising campaigns, how can these companies not invest a small amount in preserving their chosen mascots? It is simple risk management. The shareholders should demand it. And it would cost mere pennies compared to the campaign costs and product revenues at stake. It would be a wise investment with significant returns.
Examples of Product Promotion with Endangered Species
Clearly showcasing wild animals in advertisements works to evoke emotion and sell products, as agencies have been using this tactic for almost a century. Glossy spreads are nice, and let’s now focus on the real thing. Envision what upping the ante could do. Companies have a unique opportunity to save their preferred animal, create massive goodwill, and generate sustainable returns for their brand. Let’s dive into some examples.
Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Apple has upgraded its signature operating system from the Leopard to the Snow Leopard. Per Apple, “When it came to designing Snow Leopard, Apple engineers had a single goal: to make a great thing even better. In many cases, they elevated great to amazing.” Hence the addition of the word “Snow.”
Anyone who has seen the real snow leopard at the Leopards Etc presentation would agree that it is amazing. The audience gasps with glee every time. Apple is onto something here! However, Apple is also taking a risk because the real snow leopard is highly endangered. It is tying its signature operating system brand to a near-extinct animal that could go the way of the Newton.
Snow leopards are rare and officially listed as endangered. There are only an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 left in the wild. They are threatened by habitat loss and by poachers for their fur and Chinese voodoo medicine. Snow leopards are beautiful creatures that live high in the rugged mountains of Central Asia. They have huge fur-covered paws that act as snowshoes and keep them from sinking into the snow. Snow leopards are definitely worth saving! Thankfully there are excellent organizations that Apple could support to save its iconic mascot such as the Snow Leopard Conservancy with Dr. Rodney Jackson and the Snow Leopard Trust. Donation dollars go far in these lean and effective organizations. A small commitment by Apple would result in big gains for the snow leopard and the company's image.
As an interesting aside, Apple has bought the keyword “Snow Leopard” in Google Adwords. If you search for how to save the snow leopards, the first sponsored result is Apple. Now there is an opportunity.
Jaguar: One of the most obvious examples of using big wildlife is the car company Jaguar, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Why did they choose the name? According to the company, “Sir William Lyons wanted a new and evocative name for his company in 1935. After asking his advertising agency for suggestions, Williams chose Jaguar. The name was an ideal choice because it represented feline grace, elegance, power and agility.”
It is wonderful that Sir Williams respected the qualities of the big cats enough to name his company after them. Imagine if Jaguar had invested just a small amount in saving its namesake along the way. Both the car and the cat could be alive and well. Beginning in the 1900's, large scale hunting of jaguar pelts for the fur trade greatly reduced the population. The jaguar was listed as endangered in 1972, but illegal poaching and other threats persist. The jaguar is not out of the woods yet, and Jaguar can help. Imagine saving the jaguar species from extinction to honor its 75th anniversary. How can the company afford not to?
Cartier: While waiting in a lobby and reading this month’s Vogue, I came across a collection of Cartier ads featuring jaguar cubs playing with necklaces and jewelry boxes. “Collection les must,” the ad says. The ad, like the jaguar cub, is irresistible. A brilliant piece of marketing that is undoubtedly helping Cartier to sell more expensive jewelry.
Cartier is in a unique position to create a campaign benefiting its jewelry playthings. The jaguars are facing extinction in the next two decades unless action is taken. Cartier most likely sources gold and gemstones from countries in which the last-remaining big cats live. Imagine if Cartier pledged funds to the highly-effective organizations Yaguara and Panthera to save the jaguars. Imagine the legacy for Cartier and the positive difference for these beautiful creatures.
An enlightened advertising agency could also launch a campaign with multiple clients, much like the Hopenhagen campaign by Ogilvy, the IAA, TakePart and others. One can envision companies dedicating 1% of their proceeds from sales propelled by wild commercials to defending their beloved species. We would save these beasts in no time.
Canon: Check out this ad below by the camera company Canon for its Optical Image Stabilizer.
Is this a tiger or other endangered big cat? It is hard to tell. Canon is an interesting corporate case study. They frequently use charismatic megafauna in their advertisements as they have realized the powerful connection between wildlife photography and brand equity. To their significant credit, Canon sponsors Nature on PBS. Canon has also run a series of ads in National Geographic Magazine entitled "Wildlife as Canon sees it." You can see the blue whale ad example below.
As we enter the 2010s and beyond, I think it is time for conscious companies like Canon who are profiting from wildlife associations to take a stand for imperiled species. Take the whales for instance. They are under siege by the Japanese “scientific program” that is a guise for killing thousands of whales per year. Isn’t Canon a Japanese multinational corporation? You use it. You help save it. Pure and simple. With their myriad resources and connections, corporations are in a unique position to save endangered species. Canon says that “photography can help promote a greater awareness of our entire wildlife heritage.” That has been wonderful, but many marquee species will be extinct in the next ten years if we do not act now. We are beyond awareness. We need corporate action. Who will rise to the occasion and become a hero of the planet?
PUMA: A puma is another name for a mountain lion, also called a panther! In my research, I was thrilled to find the lone example of the shoe company Puma who seems to have recognized the golden opportunity of philanthropic activities associated with its wild name. PUMA is already going green and has set 25% reduction targets for its energy and water consumption by 2010 for example. But most groundbreaking was its announcement on January 6, 2010 that PUMA along with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Cameroon’s national football team would be supporting the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity and specific initiatives in Africa. This is outstanding. Finally a major wild brand name acting to protect wildlife.
The Play for Life partnership will raise awareness about wildlife conservation in Africa among fans and the public during football events. PUMA realized that it is uniquely positioned to help drive this effort with the United Nations because they already sponsor twelve African football teams. The U.N. notes that 9 of the planet’s 35 richest and most threatened biodiversity hotspots are in Africa.
Raising awareness is one positive thing, and time is not on our side. We need to set concrete goals of species saved before the clock runs out. We need to move the goalpost from awareness to success. In addition, we need to be careful not only to promote biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, but also to help the public understand how saving biodiversity saves us as well. This is essential. That said, I applaud PUMA for taking this important step and becoming a corporate leader in the fight to save big wildlife. Let’s hope that others join the pride.
Chantecaille: I want to give a shout out to the beauty company Chantecaille for their innovative product campaigns that save wildlife. According to founder Sylvie Chantecaille, “Our customers are very intelligent women with the power to make a difference.”
Chantecaille dedicated their Holiday 2008 Le Tigre Collection to the wild tigers and donated 5% of the proceeds to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. I gave the white tiger powder compact to my mother, and she loved it so much that I ordered two more. This is the ideal -- a product that is fabulous and helps to save the planet.
Chantecaille has also launched product line that benefit whales, coral reefs, monarch butterflies, and now dolphins with Les Dauphins in 2010. You can tell that the company is doing their research because the nonprofits they select to support are the ones making the most difference. I salute Chantecaille’s pioneering initiatives to make women beautiful while saving the most beautiful species on earth.
Use It and Save It
It seems ironic that companies get to use the animal name with a capital letter as in Apple’s Snow Leopard, while the original species is simply called a snow leopard. Which came first? Have we co-opted animal names for financial gain, while leaving the lower-case living versions vulnerable to extinction? When you search for puma, the first result is Puma® the shoe company. How have we allowed companies to trademark animal names without any responsibility to save the species? Opportunities abound to make great strides in saving life while safeguarding brand equity. You own it. You save it.
But let's be careful of unintended consequences. By featuring these animals, the companies are helping to keep their spirits alive in the public’s consciousness. You are far more likely to see a tiger in a commercial than in real life. We don’t want to discourage companies from extolling the magnificence of the animal kingdom. We want to encourage it and reframe it as an opportunity for differentiation. Anyone can feature wild animals in a product ad, but which companies actually have the strength to save them?
What the world needs now is for companies who have tied their brands to endangered species to help save those species. It is now or never. I call on companies to step up and go to bat for their species. You use it. You help save it. You protect your brand equity. You generate wild sales. You become a hero of the planet.