The following topic is quite interesting and relevant to the wildlife conservation movement, particularly during such troubled economic times. I don’t know that I will deliver this post in the typical lively spirit that you are familiar with, as it has been a long weekend for some reason. But I always digress….
If you click on the link above you will learn, if you aren’t already aware, that the Miami MetroZoo has been “re-branded” as the Miami-Dade Zoological Park with a working commercial brand name of “Zoo Miami.” The journalist did not provide much information behind the name change. Those of you working at the Miami MetroZoo presumably have some more insight into the change.
More recently I became a fan of these contemporary institutional brand names as I’ve spent some time learning something about commercial advertising. I don’t think that a degree in public relations is necessarily required for someone to comprehend that a shortened or abbreviated name is easier to market. I suspect that when the institutions like the Franklin Park Zoo (Zoo New England) and the Fulton County Zoo (Zoo Atlanta) considered a name change, they were interesting in new marketing strategies and perhaps responding to a need to reach a larger demographic. Name recognition goes a long way. I could have selected “Global Zoo Professionals Interested In Connecting With Each Other” as a brand name over “Zoo Peeps.” I suspect that you might not be reading this post if I had.
Zoo Atlanta, Zoo New England, Zoo Montana and now Zoo Miami, among others, provide name recognition and marketing potential that their previous names, in some way precluded. I think that some people intuitively understand the concept of brand development, others don’t, and some quite frankly don’t care. Some of you were born after the American Association of Zoological Parks & Aquariums changed its name to the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The AZA now simply serves as an acronym for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. I don’t have any idea what was involved in the re-branding process or what the impetus was to further shorten the name, but I’m sure some brand development specialists were consulted and it was deemed appropriate for brand development. I think it was a good move.
I know that when I was an animal keeper I often referred to the “Association” as the “American Zoo Association.” In fact, many people today intentionally or inadvertently call it as such. Essentially I used it as an alias on occasion when talking to people outside of the industry. I apologize to anyone who may take offense. With that said, I have also heard Jungle Jack Hanna, the marketing guru and iconic conservationist, refer to the AZA as the “American Zoological Association.” Jack always and effectively calls it as he sees it. He’s astutely aware of the public perspective and perception and that’s why he himself is such a marketable “franchise.”
Brands are important for fund raising initiatives and so many other things. Some of you may not have been privy to what is involved in creating a new zoo logo, but in my opinion it rivals a panda birth. I always bring science back into the picture somehow, and science and conservation rely on branding. Louis Leakey or one of the Leakey’s noted that lack of funding was one of the biggest impediments to the conservation field. It may not have always been the case, but it certainly is concern right now. Conservation organizations and zoos hire consults and in- house staff who specialized in brand development. It’s critical to get the most out of your marketing dollar and reach as many potential supporters as possible. Think of all the FB fan pages out there. That’s part of it.
National Zoo scientists John Seidensticker and his wife Susan Lumpkin have coauthored several popular publications. In their text, the Smithsonian Book of Giant Pandas, they liken the media’s interest in these “particolored” bears as they are also known to be called, to the paparazzi stalking mega-celebrities Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. If you work at one of the four panda holding institutions in the U.S. you would have first hand experience with the media frenzy surrounding these uber-iconic wildlife ambassadors. They are emblematic to the Chinese and they epitomize the influence of branding. Although they were pretty easy to brand. It would probably not behoove the World Wildlife Fund to ever consider relinquishing their trademark panda.
The panda brand really speaks to the power of marketing. Conservation efforts aimed at saving dung beetles or a species of great concern like the various species and subspecies of desert pupfishes could be stiffed by their obscurity compared to more charismatic mega-fauna. Most of you may have no idea which living institutions display subspecies of desert pupfishes or even that pupfishes are killifish. However, many of you could name every panda in the US and tell me which zoos the animal calls home and what each bear’s favorite enrichment items are… I may have time to expound upon this a bit later, but I hope I shared something of interest. And by the way my favorite US zoo logo is that of the Detroit Zoological Society.
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus