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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?