The Nature Conservancy Trumpets Elephant Advocacy Through Multichannel Marketing

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Can marketing's biggest channels save the world's largest land mammal?


Weighing up to 11 tons, African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, according to The Nature Conservancy. Despite the animal's massive stature, it's diminutive in terms of population size. The number of African elephants dropped from approximately 1.2 million in 1980 to 430,000 in 2014, according to the conservation organization. And the death toll is rising. The nonprofit also reports that about 30,000 elephants are killed every year.

The population plummet is primarily attributable to increased demand for elephants' ivory tusks in Asian markets. To help put an end to that trade, The Nature Conservancy sought a way to generate buzz and funding for elephant conservation, as well as reach people who loved elephants but weren't engaging in conservation efforts—or “elephant lovers on the bench,” as Misty Herrin, marketing director for the African program at The Nature Conservancy, puts it.

“We're starting to see indications within conservation that global attention on the elephant poaching crisis is starting to really nudge leaders around the world to take more action,” Herrin says. “So we felt that we should do our part to really help grow that noise.”

But there were a few challenges. First, The Nature Conservancy had to find meaningful and enjoyable ways that people could help with its conservation efforts from afar. The organization also needed to stand out from other nonprofits, as well as communicate poaching issues without scaring people off.

After considering feedback from members, donors, and message boards, The Nature Conservancy found that there were people who cared about elephants but didn't want to see graphic pictures from killings. A year's worth of Facebook page activity also showed the nonprofit that elephant content outperformed all other forms of animal content combined. However, if the content addressed elephant issues—such as poaching—people would like the content, but they wouldn't share it. Yet, if the content was “emotionally palpable,” then people would pass it on to their social circles, Herrin says.

So instead of focusing on scare tactics, The Nature Conservancy decided to start a conversation around how people could spread the word about and participate in elephant conservation. To ensure that its audience would be all-ears, the nonprofit launched a two-year multichannel initiative called #SaveElephants on June 26.

“[There's] more and more research showing that different people want to be on different platforms,” Herrin says. “If we want to expand the pool of people who [are] engaged in protecting elephants, we're going to have to go to where those people are.”

Building the trunk of the campaign:

Although The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit, Herrin sought out an agency that had only worked with for-profit brands. “I wanted to market this in a way that products are marketed…. Donors are also buying something. We're buying a feeling that we're making a difference for the things that we care about,” she says.

The organization selected digital agency Carrot Creative to help it market differently. Carrot Creative built a microsite to act as the campaign's “home base,” Herrin says. At the top of the site is a field for visitors to enter their email address. As visitors scroll down, The Nature Conservancy's campaign message unfolds—featuring the campaign's mission and motivations, as well as what the organization is doing to protect elephants and how people can help. The site also features social sharing content—such as GIFS—and a button that directs visitors back to the email address acquisition field at the top of the site.

“This provided us with an opportunity upfront to get those hand raisers to become advocates, get them actively involved in what's going on through social, and try to [encourage] sign ups for The Conservancy,” says Matthew Indellicati, account executive for Carrot Creative.

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