Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Marketing the Berlin Zoo

A few months ago, the Berlin Zoo was handed a marketing cream-puff in the form of a fluffy little polar bear cub who'd been abandoned by his mother. Controversy - often a friend to marketing - was there from the outset, when an animal activist suggested that the cub, by then named Knut, would be better off dead than raised by humans. This set off a world-wide protest with little kiddies all demanding that the cub be spared.

He was.

Knut is alive and well and the star attraction at the Berlin Zoo, which is in the news big-time for the first time since the animals started running free during bombing in the waning days of World War II.

Not only is Knut the star attraction, he's become the marketing darling as well. And not just for the Zoo.

Souvenir shops all over town are full of cute Knut stuff - caps, postcards, t-shirts - the usual tourist paraphernalia. It is ubiquitous.

From the Zoo itself, there are podcasts. (And thousands upon thousands of people lining up to see His Cuteness.)

There are Knut blogs, fan clubs, even a Knut theme song.

According to Wikipedia (and where would we be without that?), Knut even boosted the stock price for Berlin Zoo shares.

All this because of cuteness.

For above all, Knut is possessed of surpassing cuteness.

Or at least he was a couple of weeks ago when he was little and fluffy and adorable and puppy-ish and playful.

And he still is now.

Sort of.

But he's apparently doubled in size in the last month or so, and he's getting a bit more aggressive than playful with his handler, and we know that this is only going in one direction.

So what's the Zoo to do?

They don't have much more time during which they can say 'come to the Zoo and see cute-little-Knut'. Pretty soon he'll be not-so-cute, two-ton-Knut, the adult polar bear.

I'm sure that he will be handsome and magnificent.

But he won't be cute.

The marketing director of the Berlin Zoo was on the news last night (CNN International, I think, maybe Sky) talking about how they were going to keep going with the Knut "brand", using Knut (original, cute Knut) as a symbol for the Zoo, while spinning down over time the brand-involvement of the aging, hefty, not-so-cute Knut.

While the Berlin Zoo still has some potential with this brand, focusing too much on any one particular baby animal is bound to be a problem, especially if there's not a steady stream of new baby animals being born. (Knut was the first polar bear born in Berlin in 30 years.) If the trip to the Zoo depends on seeing the baby polar bear, there's bound to be drop off in visits and ramp up of whining kids ("But I wanted to see the cute Knut, not that monster polar bear who looks like he could eat me").

Those baby animals have an unbreakable habit of getting bigger and bigger - and it happens pretty darn fast.

Poor Knut. He's only 5 months old and already, it appears, his moment is about to pass.

We'll see how long the brand and the merchandising last.

As for its share price, it's back down from it's stratospheric heights of 4900 to a more normal range. Last trade: 2336.

Once again, the market-market has already anticipated that cute Knut just didn't have all that much staying power.

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

Well, at least he got on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leo before his 15 minutes was up. (Even if it was via computer image manipulation.)

There's an inherent problem with "cute" and polar bears anyway. As much as I (I admit) like the Coke commercial where the cuddly smiling bears party with the the real world, they'd eat the penguins...and us...and pretty much anything else that can't run fast enough.