Protect Your Brand – Learn from The Zoo and Creation Museum

Yesterday there was an ariticle in the Cincinnati Enquirer about a marketing partnership between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Creationist Museum.  What started as an innocent marketing program – get a discount when you visit 2 local tourist destinations – turned into angry complaints and ultimately the Zoo pulling out of a promotion 2 days after the launch that they had spent months developing and planning.

Should the zoo have pulled out or did they overreact to a minority of vocal complaints?  Similar to Motrin Moms the company reacted quickly to negative feedback and removed the campaign- were they right or should they have stuck it out?

“They seem like diametrically opposed institutions,” said Dr. James Leach, a Cincinnati radiologist who e-mailed zoo officials about his concerns. “The Cincinnati Zoo is one of this city’s treasures. The Creation Museum is an international laughingstock.”

“It’s not about us endorsing them or them endorsing us,” Chad Yelton, a zoo spokesman, said. “That wasn’t the intention of anything we were doing.” “When we partner with the Reds, we don’t get these kinds of e-mails,” Yelton said. “It’s pretty clear this is more of a distraction.”

Really?  You don’t say?  Is it hard for you to see the difference between a promotion with the Cincinnati Reds and the Creationism Museum?  Perhaps The Cincinnati Reds should do a promotion with a Tour of a Local Cigarette Plant… (I’m not comparing the Creation Museum to Cigarettes, more the point is that the same promotion with 2 different companies can produce different results).

The Cincinnati Zoo is well a zoo.  It is about science, biology and enjoying animals.  In their words “The mission and vision of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is dedicated to creating adventure, conveying knowledge, conserving nature, and serving the community.”

The Creationist Museum is a museum dedicated to the theory of creationism.  A place where humans and dinosaurs play side by side and a museum that “brings the bible to life”.  In their words The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings..

A Lesson in Branding

When you partner with another organization you are associating you brand with it!!!  It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that you are endorsing it!!! Any promotion with another organization, brand or product means that you are choosing to associate your brand with theirs.  Protect your brand equity by paying careful attention who you associate with.  In most cases partnerships are derived when two brands have similar characteristics and targets that compliment each other.  Before engaging in any co-promotions ask yourself do the brands values fit?  Are there potential negative consequences? Are the product equities similar?  What is the synergistic value for both brands?

There were a number of mistakes made by the zoo in engaging in this sort of a promotion.

  1. Always Avoid Religion and Politics – Most companies actively avoid partnering with organizations that are political or religious in nature as they tend to be stigmatizing for their audiences.  Independent of your feelings about the creation museum a publicly funded organization should probably avoid partnering with religious groups.
  2. Ensure Similar Values – When partnering with another brand ensure that the values are similar or at least not conflicting.  Even if the promotion with the zoo didn’t explode online, the reality is that their equity would have no doubt been damaged by associating with a brand that has values far different from their own.
  3. Go Beyond the Target – The zoo thought that the promotion was a good idea because both organizations had similar marketing objectives and targets; tourists in the Cincinnati area over the holidays.  Sharing a similar target or marketing objective is not enough to warrant a partnership.  If that was the case we would see joint promotions between Olay (stay younger longer) and Breast Implant Clinics or Beer companies and strip clubs.  Sharing a target is not a good enough reason to associate 2 brands.

From a marketing and branding perspective I feel that it is very clear why it is a bad idea, however a number of the comments on Cincinnati.com suggest otherwise- primarily from a consumer perspective about – basically stating that the Zoo should not have backed out and that it was a legitimate cross-promotion.

IMO the fact that after 2 days they had sold 0 (per the article – there was no need to give refunds) suggests that it was irrelevant and probably a bad idea… although I don’t know what the uptake on these promotions usually is….

What do you think?  A legitimate partnership or like Motrin Moms did the Zoo overreact to a few loud complainers?

  • Fred

    I don’t think the zoo over-reacted. Instead, I’m visualizing a “V-8 moment,” where the complaints started coming in, and the zoo management instantly realized what a bone-headed move this was, and slapped their collective forehead. The fact that there had been zero sales just made it that much easier to pull the plug.

  • http://www.theRamenNoodle.com the Ramen Noodle

    I want to be careful to try not to spark a huge debate, and I try to avoid commenting on this topic on the internet, but since I know you, I feel I must point out some errors in your premise.

    You said the zoo “is about science, biology and enjoying animals”; but that the Creation Museum “is a museum dedicated to the theory of creationism.” Have you been to the Creation Museum yet? In it, you’ll find excessive promotion of science, biology, and plenty about enjoying animals and all of creation (the Creation Museum also has a petting zoo, just like the Cincinnati Zoo does). The bookstore contains resources covering theology, children’s storybooks, toys, and like any other scientific place, plenty of indepth scientific books and videos (nearly all of them by real scientists who got their real PhDs from real universities).

    To say this is science vs. religion is outright ignorance of the positions and science behind both interpretations of history.

    But let me step back from the philosophical debate and approach the issue from another angle. Nearly every major city in America has its own zoo. These locations are good attractions for local residents, but I doubt you’d hear of families planning a vacation to an area specifically to visit its zoo.

    However, the Creation Museum is totally unique and is bringing tourists from all over the nation and even the world. I would suspect that probably an even geographically larger population than the Cincinnati Zoo attracts. So the deal would seem that it would’ve benefited the zoo more than the Creation Museum.

    Also consider that the majority of the bitter opposition to the deal came not from greater-Cincinnati citizens but from people outside of this area who don’t pay taxes here, who don’t spend money here, and who will probably never visit the Cincinnati Zoo anyway. And the zoo backed out of the partnership because of these people? Bad decision. Especially when you see local polling that supports the original combination ticket.

    Finally, it seems many people are missing that this was only a holiday promotion because both locations will be providing special holiday events this year for families to enjoy. The zoo with its festival of lights, and the museum with its first-time “Walk through Bethlehem” event.

    So while people are complaining about some churches being intolerant (and yes, the sad truth is that many churches and Christians aren’t living their lives according to the Bible and this can result in intolerance, among other problems), it’s sad to see people so upset over a community partnership like this.

    Besides, no one was being forced to buy the combo tickets and visit the Creation Museum, nor were they being forced to visit the Cincinnati Zoo.

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  • http://www.kristaneher.com admin

    @Fred – lol, I agree

    @theramannoodle – Thanks for sharing some insight into the museum (I have never been there)… I do know that there is a lot of debate about the museum, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

    Even if they are both considered scientific, I would suggest that it is generally unwise for a publicly funded organization to create associations or promotions with religious or political groups. Most brands and corporations avoid both as they are bound to generate passionate responses on both sides which can have negative consequences for the brand.

    – Krista

  • http://www.theRamenNoodle.com the Ramen Noodle

    @Krista: “I would suggest that it is generally unwise for a publicly funded organization to create associations or promotions with religious or political groups.”

    So you’re saying that if another organization is in any way religious or political, that a place like the Cincinnati Zoo shouldn’t partner with them?

    Then would you also say that the Cincinnati Zoo should avoid partnerships or cross-promotion deals with gay-rights organizations, Xavior University (a Catholic school), or almost any of the local hospitals (all but I believe just one are Catholic-based)?

  • Alana DaSilva

    You do pose a strong argument that the two brands should not have joined forces with this campaign. I agree with you pointing out that just because the objectives are the same doesn’t make it a good idea and that there are other factors to consider.

    As a PR student these observations do cross over into the PR world, particularly what you said about a company’s image is reflected through those you do business with.

    Very informative!

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