Just down the path from Zoo Atlanta’s world-renowned Panda exhibit is an attraction that houses a different breed of wildlife entirely. In a paddock lined with TV monitors rather than bamboo shoots, packs of uninhibited kids roar like lions and laugh like hyenas alongside classic cartoon icons including Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla.
The ‘Wild Like Me’ exhibit launched last spring with the aid of sponsoring partner Turner Broadcasting System, and the zoo is anticipating that it will see a 30% hike in traffic this year, due in part to the birth of a baby panda.
‘Parents love it because their kids can blow off some steam and learn at the same time,’ says Dennis Adamovich, SVP of marketing at Cartoon Network, which supported its hometown zoo philanthropically for years. The goal for the zoo was to instill empathy for animals in future generations, so visitors are encouraged to do things like build an animal habitat, measure their height and strength to see how they’d stack up in the animal kingdom, and act out the part of animals in a nature mockumentary starring Yogi and other Boomerang characters.
Cartoon isn’t the only broadcaster to have embraced the zoo experience as a brand-building opportunity. Nickelodeon is embarking on a major campaign based around its nature-themed Go, Diego, Go! series at the Miami Metrozoo this summer as part of a five-year partnership. The centerpiece of the undertaking is an Amazon & Beyond exhibit that’s in the works for 2008. When it’s finished, this 27-acre rainforest will support 1,000 species such as harpy eagles, giant river otters and anacondas, and Diego elements will include a stage show, stamping stations, field journals and educational materials for schools.
The stage show will run this year to tease the exhibit’s launch, along with Diego costumed character appearances on-site and at various marketing events throughout the state. ‘He’s basically going to help us build awareness for the Amazon & Beyond opening,’ says the zoo’s marketing director, Paul Vrooman, adding that he’s expecting record-setting attendance this summer.
Miami Metrozoo was actually on board to play a role in Diego’s launch in 2005, through a partnership Nick had set up with the American Zoo Association. The plan was for zoos across the country to run poster giveaways that would be promoted by radio spots in each local market. But Metrozoo had to pull out of the stunt because it was scheduled to run just as zoo staff were boarding up the park to withstand Hurricane Katrina.
Diego’s trip to the zoo dovetails nicely with the start of Go, Diego, Go Live: The Great Jaguar Rescue, a cross-country touring show that will travel to 50 markets this year, landing in Florida in June and July. Though the tour and the zoo exhibit aren’t specifically linked, Pam Kaufman, Nick’s EVP of marketing and worldwide partnerships, says the two initiatives are part of a larger effort to push the theme of Diego’s connection to animals. ‘It adds up to more noise around Diego than a one-off promotion can create,’ she says.