Aquarium asks people to test the waters

Lord knows, if they had virtual marine life on display, there probably wouldn't be anything to fret about....

Lord knows, if they had virtual marine life on display, there probably wouldn’t be anything to fret about.

It’s not easy marketing an institution like the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre anymore. Competition for the consumer’s leisure-time spending is stiffer than ever – and much of it now comes from flashy entertainment palaces like Playdium that boast the latest high-tech delights.

And what does the aquarium have to offer? Fish. You try selling that to people nowadays.

All right, maybe that’s overstating the case just a tad. The 44-year-old Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park, remains one of the city’s leading entertainment attractions, drawing nearly a million visitors a year.

Still, it has become increasingly clear that if this non-profit facility wants to stay on the consumer’s shortlist of places to go and things to see, then it’s going to have to cast its marketing net a little more aggressively. Which is the main reason the aquarium signed powerhouse Vancouver shop Palmer Jarvis DDB as its agency of record in March.

"The aquarium has realized that, like any other attraction, it has to invest in marketing itself," says Lynne DeCew, the institution’s newly appointed vice-president, marketing and sales. "You can’t just assume that if you build it they will come."

Managing the aquarium’s relationship with its new agency should prove relatively easy for DeCew. Before joining the institution, she actually worked at PJDDB as vice-president, account director and managing director of the agency’s youth marketing division, KidThink.

One of her first responsibilities, in this new position, will be to oversee development of a brand awareness campaign for the aquarium – an effort that will launch in mid-June.

The challenge, DeCew says, will be crafting an approach that convinces both of the audiences that the institution must court: Vancouver residents and visitors from out of town.

To draw tourists, she says, the campaign simply has to let them know that the aquarium is a can’t-miss experience. Winning over locals, however, is trickier. Just about everybody in the city has been to the aquarium at some point in their lives. So the advertising must persuade them that the institution always has something new to offer.

Building and maintaining respect in the local community will be another of DeCew’s priorities. Support for the aquarium has been strained in recent years by protests over the display of live killer whales. At the end of April, the institution announced that it would end the practice, moving Bjossa, B.C.’s last killer whale in captivity, to a Sea World park in the U.S.

While the creative strategy for the branding effort has yet to be determined, consumers got a glimpse in March of the offbeat sensibility that PJDDB will likely bring to the assignment, when the aquarium launched a campaign in print, radio and transit to promote a display of rare golden crocodiles.

One ad, for example, boasts the headline "It’s a fallacy they’re man-eaters. They like women and children, too." Another features a photo of a mother, her young son and an infant standing at the crocodile enclosure. They are labeled, respectively, "Entrée," "Hors d’oeuvre" and "Light snack."

Other attractions, it’s true, have more of the electronic bells and whistles that mesmerize audiences these days. But DeCew says she believes the Vancouver Aquarium still delivers top value for the entertainment dollar.

"It’s not the same as going to play virtual basketball," she says. "You get to experience the real thing."

Also in this report:

- Tree Brewing: From small acorns, big oaks: Innovative thinking overcomes tiny budget, as beer maker plots to dominate B.C. microbrewery business p.23

- Pharmasave carves its niche: B.C.-based drugstore chain finds itself facing stiff competition from big-box retailers and major supermarkets p.25

- TransLink touts broadened mandate: Vancouver transit authority lets consumers know it’s more than just "the old bus company" p.27

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group