Polar Bears on the Thames
launching a new natural history channel
New natural history TV channel Eden challenged us to create and stage a large-scale visual stunt to draw attention to their launch day.
The brief required an idea which would work on several levels; most importantly the initiative needed to amplify awareness of the channel launch within the UK media and successfully communicate the core channel proposition.
We were also tasked to drive traffic to Eden’s website and highlight the Fragile Earth series being shown across the channel.
We needed to create a great picture, a unique image that no one had seen before or a new twist on a familiar theme – if we could crack that then we would have a great story but where to start?
The Taylor Herring team interrogated the launch programming schedule for ideas and analysed the most iconic wildlife scenes and images of recent years for inspiration. After much debate we finally arrived at our key creative – an iceberg featuring a stranded polar bear floating adrift on the River Thames.
The idea paid back to the launch series ‘Fragile Earth’ and provided us with media currency; the stranded polar bear was not just an iconic wildlife image but also a potent symbol of global warming that would add relevance to our story.
While we were confident that our Thames launch would provide us with the compelling news picture, we also felt that the sheer scale of the project merited a series of further mini-launches around the country that would serve to maximise awareness in key demographic regions of the UK.
Eden loved the idea and Taylor Herring moved on to the design of the sculpture, working closely with our design team of 15 artists to make the bears and iceberg as realistic and impressive as possible. Realism was essential and the build needed to look as life-like as possible if the stunt was to work.
With this in mind, we liaised closely with our artistic team on every detail from the paintwork and scale (1:5-1) to the icebergs dimensions and the static pose which would work best visually. With a mere six week window from sign-off to launch, decisions needed to be taken fast and at the end of the first build week we decided to raise the impact of the model by adding a baby cub to the structure.
We also liaised with the channel to ensure support for the launch stunt from Sir David Attenborough, the presenter of many of Eden’s key programmes and the world’s pre-eminent authority on the natural world. Sir David gave us a quote which was included in our launch press release.
As the build approached completion, the Taylor Herring team staged a dry run on the river to assess logistics including the tides, timings and the choreography of the shoot. The rehearsal enabled us to pinpoint the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge as our key backdrops to the media call and to pinpoint the best possible window for that all important sunshine. Finally with days to go, our PR team held a series of desk side briefings with national picture editors, talking them through every step of the build, the channel proposition and our plans for the E-day. To capitalise on Eden’s launch and to target key demographics, the sculpture was then sent on a tour of UK cities including Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow.
For each area, the polar bears were positioned where they would create a talkability factor and raise further channel awareness. On Monday 26 January 2009, at 6am in the morning, the 1.5-tonne, 20ft sculpture was winched into place on the Thames where it began its journey from Greenwich in South East London to the Houses of Parliament. A separate press boat collected photographers from key news agencies and national newspapers including The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Evening Standard and our own film crew. The pictures were subsequently sold in to national picture desks, news desks, online targets, regional newspapers and eco publications.
Following weeks of grey skies and rain, the sun decided to shine on E-day.
Measurement and Evaluation
Within five hours of release, fully credited images had appeared on every daily national newspaper’s websites. That evening every key London newspaper featured images of the polar bears including The London Paper and London Lite and we secured a double page picture spread in that day’s Evening Standard. Fully credited online coverage was secured on 50 separate websites on the day of launch including the world’s most popular blog The Huffington Post, bbc.co.uk, Sky News.com and the major portals Tiscali, Virgin Media, AOL and MSN News.
The launch day coverage was followed with credited images and discussion points in The Sun, The Metro, The Times, The Daily Star, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph as well as numerous key regional newspapers including The Manchester Evening News, Yorkshire Evening Post, Shropshire Star and Glasgow Evening News. The story has since been featured in OK! – the UK’s biggest selling weekly magazine, the news round-up in The Weekly News and even merited inclusion onto the homepage of the world’s leading environmental magazine Ecologist website which also included our story in its weekly online mail-out to 25,000 subscribers.
International coverage was also impressive with picture stories running all over the world from The New York Post to The Brisbane Times. The online story has also continued to grow. On the day of the launch, coverage appeared on 20 editorial websites and 47 blogs while 18 sites were also featuring our online film of the polar bears’ journey including Telegraph TV and The Sun Online. At least 80% of all the sites running the story also carried the url to the Eden website. Blogger posts have since sent our story global with pick-up secured on key eco blogs including Treehungger, Ecorazzi and Do The Green Thing, to name but a few.
There have also now been more than 250 mentions for Eden in online coverage which continues to grow on a daily basis. Our behind-the-scenes film has created such a buzz it has now had more than 50,000 hits on YouTube. Our regional media campaign was also a great success with coverage secured in every city that the sculpture visited; including the Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post, BBC WM, BBC Leeds, The Scottish Sun, Glasgow Evening Times and The Glaswegian. The sculpture had now been donated to Edinburgh Zoo and eventually Aviemore Zoo to publicise the re-homing of the zoo’s polar bear, the only one in the UK.
The installation will be fully branded and we conservatively estimate the first year’s footfall to be in excess of one million people.
Our campaign reached more than 260 million people and is still being quoted and spoken about to this day. Following the stunt, web traffic to Eden’s site tripled overnight and viewing figures were up 130 per cent for the programme average. Eden has since risen from 10th in the factual multi-channel rank to joint 4th in multi-channel homes and joint 3rd in Pay TV homes. The equivalent advertising value for the campaign to date has been independently evaluated at a staggering £2 Million + this figure does not include UCG sites such as YouTube or the strategic placement at Edinburgh and Aviemore Zoo.