Leopold Ketel Creates Magical Campaign to Attract Visitors to New Oregon Coast Aquarium Swampland Exhibit

PORTLAND, Ore.—Swamps are important to the world’s ecosystem, but most people rightfully think of their inhabitants as dark and dangerous creatures.

When the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport announced plans to introduce swamp creatures in its 2010-11 exhibit, marketing firm Leopold Ketel was asked to consider this challenge: How do you overcome the public’s fear of snakes, alligators and flesh-eating fish in order to entice visitors to the new exhibit?

The agency’s creative team, Andrew Reed, creative director; Mike Houston, copywriter and Austin Hilde, art director, proved up to the challenge. From their strategic direction came the idea of a “happy, happy ecosystem,” where even creatures being consumed by fellow predators looked happy to be part of a living food chain (www.leopoldketel.com).

“Creepiness can be attractive to kids, but we wanted to make Swampland feel full of life and vibrant,” Hilde said.

LK’s first assignment was to name the exhibit, which became “Swampland.” Then they began an extensive search for an illustrator to bring to life the idea of magic in the deepest, darkest part of a swamp.

In Russia, an illustrator had just posted work depicting her childhood spent climbing mountains and swimming in lakes in the South Ural region.  “There were lots of mysterious and enchanting places that looked like backgrounds from fairytales,” said Zutto, the graduate interior designer who had taught herself electronic arts.

The LK team liked Zutto’s approach at once and she began creating intriguing dioramas that included normally frightening piranhas, alligators and snakes hugging each other and/or otherwise happily interacting in the swamp.

The campaign unfolded in May with billboards in Portland and along I-5 and I-84, as well as Highway 101, followed by print ads in area publications and Travel Oregon online. LK also created radio advertising that will appear this summer on Radio Disney and a multi-station radio buy.

The Swampland campaign was not limited to advertising, however. LK also created rack cards for tourism centers, sticker sheets for kids and t-shirt designs.  Plans call for stacking dolls depicting the food chain process and mosquito tattoos to be given away at special events and key chains to be sold in the aquarium’s gift shop.

LK’s public relations director, Olga Haley, partnered with the aquarium’s PR manager, Cindy Hanson, to reach local, regional and national media, with such highly regarded press as the Los Angeles Times already promoting Swampland.

In addition to the creative and PR teams, LK’s account team included Terra Spencer, account director; Krissy Brunsman, account manager; Stephanie Ehui, media manager; Molly Spaniel, media director and Marilyn Foster, production manager.

Summer hours at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which has been named one of the Top 10 aquariums in the U.S., are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.