SeaWorld Kills Its Business to Save Its Brand
Killing your business doesn’t always work as the best way to improve your brand, but it seems as though SeaWorld Entertainment is doing exactly that and it’s proving to be effective. SeaWorld’s stock shot up more than 9 percent by 4 p.m. Thursday, after word that the theme park and entertainment company would no longer breed orcas or make the killer whales perform tricks.
Considering SeaWorld had been marketing itself as a place to see killer whales perform tricks, it meant the brand had to address that issue immediately during its 5 a.m. announcement via a letter in the Los Angeles Times. Specifically, it meant SeaWorld had to explain how it would survive as a business when its existing killer whales died and weren’t replaced by breeding, as well as why Americans should visit its locations if not to see orca acrobatics.
“Americans' attitudes about orcas have changed dramatically,” writes Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s president and CEO. “When the first SeaWorld Park opened in 1964, orcas, or killer whales, were not universally loved, to put it mildly. Instead, they were feared, hated and even hunted. Half a century later, orcas are among the most popular marine mammals on the planet. One reason: People came to SeaWorld and learned about orcas up close.”
So now that Manby’s established SeaWorld as the reason Americans aren’t afraid of killer whales, the site chimes in on the new business and marketing model.
“The new vision for SeaWorld reflects changes in society and SeaWorld’s evolution with those changes, including ending killer whale breeding, new inspiring natural orca encounters, and new partnerships to protect oceans and marine animals,” reads seaworldcares.com/Future. “While these decisions represent a shift in our business, they do not change our core values and purpose: to protect animals in the wild and inspire our guests to join us in this critical mission.”
Now that SeaWorld’s ending its breeding program, a page on its site titled “Last Generation” explains the existing orcas will live out their lives at SeaWorld and be observed by visitors in the closest facsimiles of natural habitats that captive whales can inhabit. The closest SeaWorld comes to saying the business will live longer than the last generation of whales is this comment about the Humane Society of the United States: “SeaWorld and HSUS will continue to look for additional opportunities for strategic collaboration, to grow their efforts to advocate for ocean preservation and conservation and the humane treatment of animals.”
So will slumping visitor stats rebound with the news that SeaWorld will more resemble a zoo or aquarium than a themepark?
#Seaworld to stop breeding Orcas. Fantastic news! 🐳
— Graeme Clark (@20Graeme09) March 17, 2016
Many animal rights activists say “no,” but they may have been unlikely to frequent the parks, anyway.
— Kaisa Mäenpää (@KaisaMaenpaa) March 17, 2016
While Target Marketing reader Nathanial Poling’s comment about my Leap Day post “Lands’ End Is an Awkward Boyfriend” is about a different topic, it gets at the point that SeaWorld should know its target audience and that audience may not be the vociferous one saying the business should just close its doors and free the whales, as that group may never buy tickets to SeaWorld.
Animal welfare supporter Paul Bobnak, my colleague and director of direct marketing archive Who's Mailing What!, provides his opinion.
“SeaWorld is trying to keep pace with a public consciousness that has evolved just in the last few years,” Bobnak says. “It’s not an easy thing to do from their perspective. SeaWorld probably understood that it was in the entertainment business. The public largely thought so, too, until recently, thanks to ‘Blackfish’ and social media campaigns that have affected the bottom line. What is its business now? Is it a still a marine animal-themed entertainment business? Is it an educational institution? Can it evolve into a marine sanctuary that operates in more of a public interest — saving whales, dolphins, etc. while doing some amount of public education on the side?”
Do you think SeaWorld satisfactorily answered Bobnak’s questions? What would you have done if you were SeaWorld, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
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