Zoo Advertising: 7 Tips to Put Your Zoo or Aquarium on the Map

Joslyn McIntyre

August 3, 2021

Zoo and aquarium advertising holds a lot of potential if you handle it right. After all, zoos are havens from the stressors of the world. They bring visitors closer to the wild side of nature; where else can you feel at one with the energetic impishness of a monkey? Aquariums offer the same respite from daily life. Wandering the concourse of an aquarium, your visitors find themselves lost in the mesmerizing allure of a smack of jellyfish. 

But how to communicate these wondrous experiences in your zoo marketing and advertising? How to get across the thrill of being subjected to the lion’s imperious gaze? The tactile sensation of handling a starfish? Your zoo’s marketing tactics have to remind people of the joys of getting close to nature – or if they’ve never been before, show them what they’re missing out on. 

Especially at the tail end of a global pandemic, when attractions around the world are beginning to open back up to the public, it’s your job to make sure your zoo is sending the message loud and clear:

We’re here. We’re open. And we’re excited to welcome you back!

Here are seven ways to send that message with your marketing.

1. Create buzz about a specific exhibit or experience

Unlike museums, where specific and temporary exhibits are often the main draw for visitors, a lot of people tend to think of zoos and aquariums as “evergreen” – a good place to visit, anytime. But on the flip side, they also don’t expect the exhibits at zoos and aquariums to change much. This can detract from a sense of urgency around getting there – and around repeat visits. 

As a marketer, it’s your job to bring that sense of urgency back by highlighting what’s new, fresh, and exciting. If you have a new resident coming in, upgrading an enclosure, or introducing a new animal encounter, share the news on your marketing channels.

Take the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans: In 2020, the institute received the 2020 Excellence in Marketing Award for the campaign “Audubon Zoo Lions: The Roar Returns.” The big news was a brand new, state-of-the-art lion habitat, and the marketing campaign reached across channels and leaned into creative partnerships with cause-oriented organizations such as the Louisiana SPCA and Disney’s Protect the Pride campaign.

Ultimately, this campaign reached more than 3 million people and generated a publicity value of nearly $10M, according to a press release by the zoo.

2. Be the biggest and best at something

You don’t have to have an exciting new event coming down the pipe to flaunt your special attributes. What’s unique about your zoo or aquarium every day? What really sets you apart?

The Tiergarten Schönbrunn of Vienna has been continuously operating since 1752 — making it the oldest zoo in the world. Originally created as the imperial menagerie of Schönbrunn Palace, it’s a beautiful and quirky zoo where you can visit such unique species as oriental small-clawed otters and arctic wolves.

The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo not only houses the world’s largest suspended aquarium – which you can glimpse while walking through the Dubai Mall –  it also has the world’s largest collection of sand sharks. When you’re the best, or have the most, or are the biggest or most attention-grabbing, marketing is easy.

3. Balance access to wild animals with promoting conservation

Most zoos and aquariums have two critical missions. One is to expose the public to a wide variety of species and habitats in a convenient, beautiful environment. The second is to further conservation efforts and awareness in order to better protect our earth’s ecosystems and fauna.

While it’s easy to promote the first mission, zoos and aquariums that offer transparency and outreach around their conservation efforts often get even more attention. Zoos and aquariums play a critical role in funding and running conservation programs that truly matter to people. Your conservation efforts are just as newsworthy as your “main attractions.”

Among other conservation efforts, Zoo Atlanta contributes to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) with the birth of new animals. The goal of the SSP is to help maintain healthy, genetically diverse, self-sustaining animal populations in North American zoos.

The New England Aquarium has a popular blog that regularly features conservation-minded posts about things such as World Ocean Day, Penguin Awareness Day, and more. Written in a friendly, engaging tone, the blog draws in readers (and hopefully, visitors) by introducing some of the characters that live at the aquarium, like the inseparable penguin sisters Pikkewynne and Apollo.

Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic is home to well over a hundred threatened species and has a prominent captive breeding program. The conservation efforts here extend beyond animals in captivity to activities aimed at helping species survive in the wild, extending the conservation mission of Prague Zoo far outside the urban walls of the attraction.

4. Use your online marketing channels to introduce the world to your residents!

Today’s marketing efforts go way beyond simple advertising and social media posts to more imaginative, time-intensive efforts such as video channels and podcasts. These types of marketing channels take a little more devotion, and perhaps some expertise, but hire the right help and your YouTube channel might be the next hot show, or your podcast the next viral audio sensation.

The San Diego Zoo, thought of by many as one of the best zoos in the world, does a great job with its YouTube channel, which regularly posts videos about okapi calf births and the debut of the red river hog piglets. Enjoy the sample video above of a Galapagos tortoise eating a watermelon. More than 21M other people already have!

Aquarium of the Pacific’s “Aquacast” features a variety of scientists and guest speakers covering important issues facing our ocean and planet. Blending entertainment with scientific credibility, this podcast shares stories on such fascinating oceanic topics as “Galápagos Wonders” and “Vanishing Vaquitas.”

By the way, Tiqets has partnered with a number of zoos and aquariums around the world to offer virtual experiences that have attracted thousands of online viewers. These viewers have frequently shared their enthusiasm about visiting in person. A little online buzz goes a long way!

5. Invite your fans to post pictures and videos

User-generated content – marketing content created and shared on social media by your fans and followers – is one of the most powerful (and inexpensive) kinds of marketing out there. When your social media fans post about your zoo or aquarium, tag you, and share with their own fans, there’s an automatic connection created between those people and your business, widening your marketing reach in an instant.

So how to get people to post about you? Contests are one fantastic way.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced its first-ever visitor photo contest in the summer of 2021. Visitors to any of the association’s accredited zoos and aquariums can enter. For those 241 venues around the world, this contest is a prime opportunity to get their zoo or aquarium more exposure and hype.

If your zoo is one of them – or if you’re involved in or launching another such photo contest – use your social media platforms, your email marketing efforts, and your own website to invite visitors to post their own photos. Use your venue’s most popular hashtags, or create one specific to this campaign.

User-generated content can also be as simple as posting signs near the exit encouraging people to post pictures and videos and tag your social media channels. A lot of zoos and aquariums provide picture-worthy backgrounds or frames to encourage this practice.

6. Take advantage of accolades

It should go without saying that any time your venue is recognized for its achievements, you shout it from the rooftops. But this type of marketing might feel out of your hands to some extent. Sure, you can submit a press release any time you get an award or are mentioned in the media, but how to get those mentions in the first place?

Knowing what awards and accolades are being bestowed in your industry is worth the effort. You can then do the legwork to be recognized and rewarded for things like your exhibit design, conservation efforts, and even your COVID-19 practices.

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, for instance, keeps a running tab of rewards and recognition on its website, and it’s an impressive list, spanning several decades. The zoo has won awards for its exhibitry, wildlife conservation efforts, education, environmental sustainability, and even its marketing. 

And incidentally, Tiqets awards the best museums and attractions annually in a variety of categories including our Remarkable Venue Awards and Best Museums and Attractions Award. Winners of Tiqets awards are invited to add badges to their websites. 

Positive visitor reviews, or social proof, are also an effective way to share valuable and believable endorsements to audiences of future visitors. Encouraging happy customers to post reviews should be a proactive aspect of your zoo marketing efforts.

7. Be the go-to family friendly, outdoor, COVID-safe activity in your area

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of heroic zookeepers worked overtime, without revenue coming in, to keep animals alive and healthy. At the same time, many of them — like Chester Zoo in the UK, stayed connected to the public with nonstop online engagement, interacting with fans over social media and continuously stocking the website with “behind the scenes” content of efforts at the zoo.

As zoos are opening back up to visitors, now, the focus is on assuring families it’s safe to come back. The better job you do with this message right now, the more return you’ll get on your marketing in the long run. 

The Bronx Zoo, one of the most popular zoos in the US – located in a hard-hit urban area of the pandemic – has adjusted to a timed ticketing model to keep visitors spaced out, and has created very clear rules and guidelines for visitors to follow post-pandemic.

The friendly “welcome back” video posted on the zoo’s website by Jim Breheny, General Director for Zoos and Aquariums, is a well-produced and highly reassuring message for visitors who are excited but maybe a little bit nervous about coming back into public spaces. Not only has the Bronx Zoo returned with a bang, but they’re currently offering COVID-19 walk-in vaccinations onsite. 

While bringing people back after a pandemic means your marketing has to be relevant to right now, it should also send a message that your zoo or aquarium is here to stay, protecting animals, educating the public, and offering an amazing experience any time. 

To read more about how zoos, aquariums, and other attractions around the world are ramping up their marketing to bring visitors back, read the blog post Future Trends in Tourism: New Survey Predicts Booking Behaviour Post-Covid.

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