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Monterey Bay Aquarium and Team Cycad

One of the most venerable mantras in marketing is “Fish where the fish are.” That advice is being followed, in […]

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Monterey Bay Aquarium and Team Cycad

One of the most venerable mantras in marketing is “Fish where the fish are.” That advice is being followed, in creative fashion, in a campaign for an attraction where there are plenty of fish.

The attraction is the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., in the tourist-rich San Francisco region. The campaign for the aquarium, which is visited by millions of people each year, carries the theme “Share the love.”

In addition to conventional elements like commercials on television and radio and advertisements in print and online, the campaign also includes several nontraditional aspects that are meant to help draw attention to — and stir conversation about — the aquarium.

Among them are events, a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter and what is known as experiential marketing, which seeks to give consumers a tangible way to experience whatever is being advertised.

For instance, there is a branded aquarium truck, traveling to locations in cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, with an interactive video screen that offers what is being billed as a “virtual aquarium dive adventure.”

Passers-by with smartphones who download a mobile application can play an interactive game and earn badges that can be posted on Facebook.

Posters for the aquarium are being bicycled around the San Francisco Bay area by cyclists working a company, Team Cycad USA. The posters, bearing sea turtles and the “Share the love” theme, are affixed on wheeled cart-like devices that are attached to the bikes the cyclists ride.

The aquarium is sponsoring the Kiss Cam at AT&T Park during the 50 night home games of the 2011 season for the San Francisco Giants.

Fans who watch the team’s games on television can see a related video clip in which it appears as if a school of sardines is forming a heart in McCovey Cove, beyond the ballpark’s right field wall.

Also, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at Embarcadero Center has been turned over to the aquarium, which is displaying some of its attractions in the hotel’s lobby and bar areas.

Well, not literally; hotel guests will find no fish tanks next to the concierge desk. Rather, there are large images and displays in the form of banners, signs and photographs, presenting penguins, sea turtles and other creatures housed at the aquarium.

The campaign is being created by an agency in San Francisco named Engine Company 1, which was formed in 2009 when BuderEngel, which had been the aquarium’s creative agency, merged with another San Francisco agency, Grant Scott & Associates.

Many of those at Engine Company 1 who work on the aquarium account also did so at BuderEngel.

The marketing budget for the campaign is estimated at more than $4 million, of which more than $2 million is being devoted to the advertising elements.

The campaign is indicative of the efforts being made by advertisers in the travel and tourism industry as the economy continues to make it difficult for them to count on steady growth in visitor head counts.

“Every year we try to do something fun to generate excitement,” says Mimi Hahn, vice president for marketing at the aquarium.

For the 2011 summer season, the goal was to produce “some wacky stuff,” she adds, “to get people talking.”

The “Share the love” theme is being revived from last year’s campaign, Ms. Hahn says, which used the phrase as a “call to action” to complement the theme “There’s something in the water.”

There was already an inkling that the phrase would resonate with the intended audience, she adds, because “a couple of years ago, in doing our market research, we found that our visitors love the aquarium, love Monterey, and want to share it with people they love.”

The desire for a real-world aquarium experience is intense, Ms. Hahn says, even though the target market is “a sophisticated audience” composed of people who “live online.”

“We call them ‘super-connected,’ ” she adds. “They have broadband at home and smartphones.”

“But they love this destination,” Ms. Hahn says, “and it’s important for them to share it” actually, not virtually, “with people they care about.”

That approach is underlined by text that appears on the aquarium’s Web site.

After citing sights like “an otter’s nuzzling nose” and “a shark’s intense stare,” the text continues: “You’ll find surprises around every corner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Discover some of your own when you share the experience with someone you love.”

And that “someone” can be just about any age, it turns out.

The aquarium’s research shows that about half the visitors to the aquarium “are adults traveling without children,” Ms. Hahn says, so the campaign has to “resonate with both ‘dinks’ and families.” (The term “dink” is an acronym for the demographic group known as dual income, no kids.)

And “we knew we wanted a campaign about the total aquarium experience,” Ms. Hahn says, “instead of focusing on specific exhibits,” as several campaigns had done in recent years.

The exhibit-focused campaigns were for attractions like the Splash Zone, for penguins; the Ocean’s Edge, devoted to “life underwater, surprisingly close”; and Wild About Otters.

Those campaigns were “a lot of fun,” says Nick Fairbairn, the media director at Engine Company 1, but the new campaign is much more about “sharing that emotional connection” derived from visiting the aquarium “with your family and friends.”

“It’s advertising; we want to sell stuff,” Mr. Fairbairn says, “but at the end of the day we want to bring a smile to people’s faces and enrich their lives.”

Mr. Fairbairn is among the employees at Engine Company 1 who also worked on the aquarium account at BuderEngel. In total, he estimates he has been on the aquarium assignment for seven years.

The aquarium has good aided awareness, Mr. Fairbairn says, meaning that many consumers will say something when asked if they are familiar with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“But there’s not good unaided” awareness, he adds, referring to the replies when there is no prompting with the name. Forging closer ties with visitors on an emotional basis should help bolster unaided awareness.

The aquarium’s presence at the Hyatt Regency is part of a program that began this year called the Hyatt Culture Club, says Judy Cronkhite, director for sales and marketing at the hotel.

“Our thought was to partner with entities in the Bay area to promote tourism,” Ms. Cronkhite says, that have so far included, in addition to the aquarium, the Exploratorium, the museum at the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Jelly Belly candy company, based in Fairfield, Calif., about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco.

The aquarium “is a great day trip from San Francisco,” Ms. Cronkhite says, making it “a meaningful and unique” attraction to promote to hotel guests.

The hotel is known for its oversized atrium lobby, which is about 42,000 square feet, she adds, providing the attractions being promoted there a “massive space” to display their wares.

There are photographs of penguins on elevator doors that, when they come together, look as if the penguins are kissing — another manifestation of the “Share the love” theme.

Swimming creatures like sea turtles and penguins appear next to the words “Share the love” and “Monterey Bay Aquarium” on a large sign that hangs over the check-in desk.

Those creatures also turn up on banners that hang from the lobby ceiling, amid strings of lights that appear as if they are bubbles in the water.

“It really has been great,” Ms. Cronkhite says of the partnership with the aquarium, which began at the end of June and is to continue through the end of August.

“It brings life and color and interest” to the lobby, she adds.

For 2012, Ms. Cronkhite says, the hotel is considering teaming up with area attractions like the Napa Valley Wine Train, the long-running musical “Beach Blanket Babylon” and the San Francisco cable cars.

In social media, the aquarium can be found here on Facebook and here on Twitter. Among the sites being visited by the interactive truck are the Hyatt Regency, AT&T Park and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif.

The truck was developed by Engine Company 1 and a company named Monster Media, which specializes in nontraditional advertising.

Original Article by: Stuart Elliott