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This blog is primarily geared toward staff at the zoos, aquariums, museums (ZAMs), and other conservation education organizations that are part of our growing global network. We aim to provide you with cutting edge, challenging, and creative information, ideas, and tools to become as effective as possible at communicating about and for conservation with your visitors and the public.

See our ongoing communications research, or join our growing network, at The Ocean Project's website.

December 21, 2011

Houston, we have impressive results to share

For the last several years, The Ocean Project has been working closely with IMPACTS Research, using their cutting-edge market research and continually developing new methods for measurably increasing ocean awareness and conservation action with our partner zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs).

Recently, we developed a beta online advertising campaign, to measure its effect on raising conservation awareness. Conducted in Houston during spring and summer 2011, this campaign marked one of the first times that a nonprofit organization has implemented a "placed media" strategy. The campaign used many of the same technologies and techniques that BP deployed (quite successfully) to obfuscate and mitigate the perceptual impacts of the Gulf oil spill–in this case to spark a positive wave of interest in ocean conservation.

The campaign goal was to raise awareness of plastics pollution and its effect on sea turtles. We directed the campaign at tweens, teens and young adults -- the audience the market research shows will provide the greatest conservation bang for the buck. We chose Houston as a test community in part because it has the lowest median age of major US cities, a high percentage of ESL households, and it is not a city known for its progressive conservation attitudes (figuring if it worked well in Houston we could achieve success in other cities).

We chose an online campaign to test this audience because it is the best method to effectively deliver enough impressions to the target audience with the budget available. It also allowed the campaign to reach the target audience through their preferred communication channel at their preferred hours of engagement, increasing the likelihood of successfully connecting with this audience. We selected plastics pollution as the campaign focus because our research indicates that of all the issues facing the ocean, pollution concerns people the most. We chose a sea turtle as it's a charismatic animal that helps visually and emotionally tell the story of plastics pollution. The ads were deployed for eight weeks through Facebook and Google; with Google we also ran an enhanced search campaign.

With this type of campaign, we expected positive results, but the breadth and depth of the impact on the target audience was much more significant and longer lasting than any of us anticipated.

From the start of the campaign to its completion, we saw a 14.8% increase in the belief that the world's ocean is endangered and an 8.9% increase in concern for the health of the ocean. There was also an increase in the belief that individuals’ actions affect the ocean: a 10.1% increase in agreement with the statement “The ocean is affected by the actions of people” and a 17.4% drop in agreement with the statement “My actions have little impact on ocean health.” And surprisingly, this increase of concern for the ocean moved beyond just the issues of plastics. By the end of the campaign, there was an 18.1% increase in agreement with the following statement: “Climate change threatens ocean health.”

Moreover, and most exciting, youth retained their increase in awareness and concern for the ocean following the campaign. Awareness levels did not significantly diminish in testing two months after the campaign. In a matter of a few months, we achieved truly significant changes with the youth of Houston, American's fourth largest city.

Based on the impressive results from the beta in Houston, the next step is to scale up this campaign to 5-7 more major cities over the next three years, working closely with our partner zoos, aquariums, and museums and focusing both on raising awareness and motivating personal action to help build a new movement of social responsibility and conservation action for our ocean.


  1. In 2003, Harvard professor James Moore wrote a brilliant piece called "The Second Superpower". What it portended then has now become "The Arab Spring".

    For the last 20 years e-learning, e-education, e-conferences have portended the same kinds of changes in education delivery as did The Second Superpower.

    Could it be that the fuel that will ignite these rocket ships will come out of both the optics and the metrics as described above?

    Dr. Sylvia Earle writes in her "landmark work" SEA CHANGE that her "gravest fear is ignorance". The only antidote known to mitigate ignorance is education.

    With new delivery methods - notably Facebook, Google and Smart Phones, - and with innovative research that scientifically documents dollars spent to value received -- as above -- what is NOT possible?


  2. Let me be more pointed. It seems to me the results of the IMPACTS RESEARCH are something like a brand new, science-based, "map" that opens RELIABLE pathways to reach children in ways THEY want to be reached; paid for by the economic models which made Facebook and Google worth billions....with results that can be monitored and measured. Applied to endeavors where changes in behavior - (waste management) (smoking) (conservation & thrift) (nutrition & exercise) are the desired outcome - this Report could turn on some brand new lights in the darkest corners of the education cave.

  3. Thank you John and we have some more exciting news to share this week. Stay tuned...