Baby elephant walks into the hearts of Houstonians with birthday card contest

The Houston Zoo did a terrific job of using direct marketing techniques to build excite­ment for the first birthday of its baby elephant, Mac, born October 6, 2006.

What really caught my eye was a series of e-mails that began a couple months in advance of Mac’s first birthday. The e-mails were really cute and colorful, promoting a contest to see who could draw the best birthday card for the elephant. They featured a photo of Mac in a birthday hat with a cake in the midst of bright, eye-catching doodles. I knew right away it would appeal to the little kids that were being targeted.

The campaign was also well coordinated — the e-mails went to a broad opt-in list, while they reached others through the Zoo’s Web site and blog. All had consistent brand­ing and the same cute imagery.

Friends have told me that response to the e-mail campaign was tremendous. The winning entry came from a little boy who had been following the elephant throughtout the year — and incorporated many of the things he watched and read online into his card design. His love for Mac, which I thought was the most exciting part, shined through in his entry.

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