Protected areas provide great opportunities for connecting people with nature and stimulating their interest in conservation. However, communication programmes have not always been effective. The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN WCPA) and the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (IUCN CEC) are now joining forces with protected areas agencies and marketing experts in order to improve the way in which the values of protected areas are communicated. The idea is to develop a global awareness campaign, reaching out to new audiences, stimulating interest in those that have not yet experienced protected areas, or who are not aware of their value, but whose opinion and actions will be crucial to the future of conservation.
In a phrase often heard at the meeting, “going beyond the usual requires the unusual”. This will be the first time that that a global campaign has been launched that involved such a diverse group of partners. Representatives of WCPA, and CEC as well as protected area managers from Mexico and Scotland met in London last week during two days for an initial brainstorming. Experts from Futerra, a marketing agency specializing on sustainability communications, facilitated the discussions and contributed their experience and expertise.
Analyzing past mistakes, it became clear that communications about protected areas – and about conservation as a whole – has long relied much on factual information rather than on an appeal to emotion. However, marketing experience shows that emotional messaging triggers action and behavior change much more effectively. Messages of loss, which have a discouraging, disengaging effect on the audience, have long been in the foreground. More particularly, the term “protected area” does not translate well into people’s hearts and minds: many people don’t have a clear conception of its exact meaning. These are areas protected by people for the benefit of society, and not protected from people.
A quick stocktake showed that the planned campaign can build on notable successes:
- More than 200,000 PAs are now established globally. They are assembled on Protected planet.net, an interactive website that constitutes a great communication channel, with linkage to Wikipedia, Flickr and other innovative online tools.
- A global network of experts is in place in IUCN WCPA that can provide advice, and there are at least 200,000 teams of protected area managers out there who can mobilize action.
- A lifetime of images and video footage has been assembled on protected areas all around the world.
- More people are travelling to experience the natural wonders that are on offer around the world and ecotourism is becoming more and more popular.
Analyzing the secrets of success of other environmental campaigns, and taking into account learning and insights from brand creation and marketing psychology, the meeting participants defined the essential features of the new campaign.
It will be radically creative, using a simple, positive message that encourages people to visit and become involved in protected areas. It will make use of the endless possibilities of modern technology, e.g. through mobile phone applications, video clips, games on social networks etc.
It will remind people of the deep relationship with nature that develops in children between the ages of 5 and 12.
It will connect to issues and activities that people are already interested in, such as health or outdoor sports, highlighting the opportunities that protected areas offer.
It will engage new partners particularly in technology and social marketing.
Acknowledging that a two-day meeting cannot result in a readily shaped marketing campaign, participants nevertheless were creative in brainstorming the initial ideas – ranging from a global “Thank you for what you have done for nature” initiative, scavenger hunts in protected areas to badges, encouraging people to “collect” as many protected areas as possible by visiting them.
From this highly productive inception, the initiative will move on, building on input from the WCPA Steering Committee, the World Protected Areas Leadership Forum (WPALF), a specialist analysis and creative development process, and eventually being launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju in September 2012.