Cause An Uproar: Social Marketing Strategies for National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative

A friend of mine, Crystal Cierlak, and I created a social marketing campaign improvement proposal for National Geographic’s Cause An Uproar campaign. Also, please check out our companion prezi for graphics and visuals representative of the content and suggestions in the proposal. This was SUPER fun. Also, we got 110% on it. That is fun too!

Cause An Uproar: Social Marketing Strategies for National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative

            National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative is a campaign aimed at preserving the world’s declining big cat population using education, various conservation efforts, incentives, and awareness. The program suggests several steps, the first of which is to halt the decline of lions by 2015, and to facilitate the growth of the population to self-sustaining levels thereafter. With a variety of partnered groups, including the IUCN Lion Working Group and conservationists from various groups in Botswana, members of local and national groups are encouraged to join the efforts. As such, we have worked to facilitate the growth of this important effort, by producing a social marketing campaign analysis including a constructive and critical look at the current campaign website, as well as offering research supported ideas for improvement and growth.

Gardner’s Seven R’s

Howard Gardner, a noted cognitive psychologist, in his book Changing Minds (2006), suggests that encouraging change includes steps which he calls the seven R’s. An effective campaign for behavior, and ultimately attitude, change successfully utilizes these principles. We have used these principles as the backbone of our analysis. Understanding how these principles affect change allows us to continue to reassess the effectiveness of any attitude and behavior change campaign. That is, after all, the purpose of social marketing.

Reason gives the consumer a focus; it communicates the purpose for the change. Reason appeals to those who deal in logic. Tools such as analogies, comparisons, cause and effect relations, and debates may lead consumers to the conclusions sought after. In this case, the Big Cat Initiative (BCI) stresses the decay of the big cat population. An example of this can be found in the ‘About’ section of the Cause An Uproar site. While this site includes reasons for big cat conservation, this is an area which lacks in content.

Research is defined by the amount of information collected to support the reasons given. If an argument does not have supporting documentation, it has nothing to stand on. Research provides this documentation. Though the arguments given for facilitating this change are somewhat weak, the research has clearly been done by the BCI. On the ‘Main’ page, towards the bottom, facts about big cats are separated by cat type. However, as one of the goals of this campaign is global education, information could be more clearly disseminated throughout the site; educating readers at every point in their journey.

Resonance relates to the emotional connection that the consumer has to the material or change. Making the information relevant to the consumer encourages a personal interest in the cause. When someone sees themselves as directly affected, they are more likely to join the fight. This site features two notable activities which bring the big cats home to the consumer. First, the activity “Little Kitties for Big Cats” collects five dollars for the upload of a picture of a consumer’s kitten. This project simultaneously collects monetary donations, and allows consumers to connect the attachment to their kittens at home with the big cats elsewhere. Second, the site invites consumers (specifically children in this case) to write letters to the big cats. In doing so, children are afforded the opportunity to feel a personal connection with the animals. These are  brilliant examples of bringing home the message, and using conditioning to create resonance.

Redescriptions are reiterations of the story being told. This is important because, just as there are several types of learners, there are several ways to present an argument. The BCI uses videos, pictures, and case studies to reinforce the need for action. However, the layout of the site makes these redescriptions difficult to find, and somewhat labor intensive to experience.

Resources and Rewards relate to the gain that a consumer receives from participation; whether it is informational, emotional, or tangible. Sometimes, getting someone to change their attitudes or behaviors is as easy is helping them understand, or see the value in what they personally receive from the change. Just as with resonance, if a change is personally connected to them, they are more likely to partake. There are small rewards for donation and participation included in the BCI. These include descriptions and pictures of grants and their impact, and the pictures of the kittens which appear when the five dollars are donated to the little kitten effort. Another small incentive is the presentation of the avatars of Facebook users who have ‘liked’ the site. Seeing their faces on the front page of the site, and knowing that others see your face as well, gives consumers the emotional reward gained from prosocial behavior.

Real World Events include the utilization of situations which occur on broader scales which facilitate change. The BCI has, on their ‘Main’ page, news articles from around the globe which relate to their efforts. Though real world events are not always plentiful, taking advantage of the learning experiences, or changes which those events inadvertently cause, strengthens the argument made by the campaign. There is not much control over the availability of content in this area, so the news sections, though small and somewhat under exposed, is a thoughtful inclusion.

Resistances denote the reasons why this change may not take place; things which work against a cause. Resistances may include ease of use of the product, reward availability, monetary insufficiencies, etc. Careful contemplation of these resistances, and planning contingencies for them, allows the campaign to overcome many of them. The BCI does this by the inclusion of a variety of ways to contribute and clearly articulating the needs/goals of the campaign. Again, the site format reduces the visibility and ease of use, which is, in and of itself, a major resistance.

Reinforcing the Seven R’s: Suggestions for Improvement

While a sense of urgency is certainly important, educating the public about why big cat species need swift and lasting conservation efforts  must instead appeal to their reasonable intellect. The information in the ‘About’ section should include answers to questions such as ‘What happens to an area’s ecological system when these cats are gone?’, ‘What other species are affected by the declining numbers of big cats?’, and ‘How does even a little bit of support help in the long term?’ In the commercials for Cause an Uproar, the narration states that if we do not act now to protect species of big cats, we will one day speak of them the way we speak of dinosaurs now. This reasonable line of thinking is a good starting place but deserves explication on the website.

It is also unclear who the target audience is. The same approach to educating adults does not necessarily apply to children, for obvious reasons. While there is a section ‘For Kids’, much of the content on the site seems to be a combination of adult and youth content. Separation of the site for kids from the site for adults (e.g., rather than a tab for children, redirecting the user to a completely separate site just for children), allows the reasoning to be clear for each target demographic. Where the urgent message currently presented might work for a child’s level of reasoning, more specific information, such as that turned up by research, could be advantageously aimed to reason with the adult demographic.

Documented research need not be confined to a column of text and an accompanying cartographic image. A great majority of the website appears to be targeted at children, perhaps with the aim of eliciting their young minds to adopt a stance on big cats early in life. This may also ensure they will be long-time partners of positive change for the Big Cat Initiative. As such, research presented to children should appeal to their young minds by being interactive as well as educational.

Again, being mindful of the target audience allows the research collected to be representative of what appeals to that audience. If the target audience is children, research presented on the website should be two-pronged: fun and educational. Alternatively, if the target audience is the adult demographic, the research collected should appeal to them. This is another aspect in which separating out the sites may benefit the cause: two sites, two demographics, more room to affect change in more consumers. This also, however, means potentially more work and more capital invested. The good news is that BCI has seemingly done most of the research necessary for both demographics.

Also inherent in the separation of sites, is the opportunity to create content that further resonates with two varied target audiences. Utilizing the varying sensibilities and concerns of each demographic, to convey the most appropriate message, would allow BCI to resonate with target audiences appropriately. If a consumer isn’t exposed to a resonating message immediately, there is nothing keeping them interested, and therefore nothing encouraging them to contribute.

In fact, resonance may well be the most important principle where consistent repeat donations are concerned. Consider the “foot-in-the-door” concept: ask something small of a consumer first, and once they have committed to that small request, they are more likely to commit to something more substantial. Take, for example, ‘Little Kitties for Big Cats’. In this scenario, the initial commitment (i.e., paying five dollars to upload a picture of their kitten) has been made. The consumer is therefore more likely to engage in a second activity (were one to be plainly and readily available) because they were a part of, and saw results from, the first commitment. In tandem with the “foot-in-the-door” concept, producing more and varied content that resonates with the consumer on a deeper level that is appropriate to their particular demographic, will create an opportunity to increase consistent and repeated donor support.

While it is clear that a large variety of resistances were considered by the BCI team, we have found one that consistently affected our research: website build. While there is a plethora of valuable and educational content on the website, it is difficult to find and, in most cases, seems haphazardly placed. Rather than indirectly forcing the user to explore the website like some puzzle with an unknown picture, content should be made readily available from a top-level portion of the website. While pages are currently labeled, the menus are layered with menus from other parts of the National Geographic website. This makes redirecting an accidental click, or attempting to further self-explore the site, very challenging.

In general, it should not take more than two clicks to find the most relevant information and content on the website. There are two consequences to not making this content readily available: 1) if a user does not know the content exists and they don’t happen to come upon it, they will miss out on what valuable information the content has to offer, and 2) if a user spends too much time trying to find content they may give up and leave the website altogether. In order to facilitate the separation of content by target demographic, as well as ease of site use, we propose the following adjustments.

Cause An Uproar: A Site Focused on Kids

Cause An Uproar has a tremendous opportunity to create an awareness campaign that will not only appeal to adults who are able to help now, but also to children and young adults who can create a lasting bond with, and facilitate the continued presence of, big cats throughout the world. Done properly, a social media and networking campaign targeted towards children and young adults can be the catalyst of that desired lasting bond.

The proposed campaign addition is comprised of five main components: character, story, game, socialization, and awareness. Each component is explained below in detail, along with examples of how each component can be accomplished. These changes are based on readily available content from the Cause An Uproar site, and necessitate only a small amount of extra work for implementation.


We’ve created a character to serve as an amalgamation of everything The Big Cat Initiative and Cause An Uproar stands for: Teagan Tigress. Teagan is a young tigress with an appetite for knowledge and a passion for big cats. She travels the globe to study various species of big cats with the purpose of finding solutions to their declining populations. She can serve as a role model to young minds who want to make a difference in the lives of big cats everywhere. Allowing for a role model or authority, someone children (and even adults where appropriate) can look up to or identify with, adds not only resonance, but helps to act as an easily identifiable resource for guidance along the learning and helping path. The creation of a heroic character may also serve as a springboard for developing a transmedia promotional campaign incorporating a cartoon show, products, further games, and much, much more!


Teagan Tigress is an example of a character that could be the heroic narrator of the story which introduces youth to the plight of the big cats worldwide. In her various travels around the world – from the Americas to explore Puma concolor, a.k.a., the cougar, to Southeast Asia to explore Neofelis nebulosa, a.k.a., the clouded leopard – she has amassed a generous amount of information in the journal she travels with. The journal itself can be utilized as an encyclopedic reference guide; something akin to a Wikipedia-like resource, and would encourage students to participate in post modernistic information gathering and distribution, as well as media literacy. This is very useful for kids and young adults who are stronger learners visually and proactively, as well as reinforcing traditional literacy. These additional elements take little to no additional effort, but encourage a more hands on approach to learning, allow youth to better articulate and share the message implicit in the campaign, and creates a learning environment that parents can be comfortable letting their children explore. With a few beautiful graphics, information can be shared in a visually pleasing way that facilitates a variety of learning and processing styles.


Design a game that anyone can play on the website: The Chronicles of Teagan Tigress! Imagine a storyline such as the following:

Have you seen Teagan Tigress? The last time we heard from Teagan, she was camping out by the Amur River. However, that was almost a week ago! We sent out an expedition team to search for Teagan, but all they were able to recover was her trusty journal. Can you help us? Take her journal and look for clues as to where Teagan might be. Don’t worry! We’re sure you won’t go missing too! (At least, we hope you don’t.)

Using one clue from the game prompt (i.e., Teagan was last seen camping along the Amur River), is the first of many steps that will create a tangential learning experience. In order for the player to begin their journey, they must know where to start. They can search through Teagan’s journal to find a reference to Amur River. This tells them where to start, and the clues lead them on a scavenger hunt. Maybe they’ll have an extremely rare sighting of an Amur leopard while they’re there, and maybe they’ll have to learn something about the Amur leopard being the most endangered big cat in the world, in order to discover the next clue about where Teagan is! Including facts, images, an engaging storyline, and other opportunities for tangential learning (e.g., not one, but two Amur leopards are at the Santa Barbara Zoo in California), can create a deeper learning experience, which can, in turn, be further augmented by visiting real and accessible places throughout the country (in the form of pictures, videos, or wiki entries).


With a heroic character in place, a story for her to tell, and a game in which kids can be transported to a rich learning environment, an element of socialization adds to the higher end of the target audience age range. The game itself can serve as a large component of a social network site where young explorers (users) can get together to share clues about where Teagan may be, what they have discovered about big cats, and share ideas they’ve come up with to combat the various issues affecting the population of big cats (e.g., poaching and a variety of human and environmental factors). Another approach may be utilizing already existing social networking sites, such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter. Allowing users to share their progress, facts that they found interesting, or hints about Teagan’s whereabouts allows not only socialization, but word of mouth advertising, and positive reinforcement; it enhances the feeling of resonance. Best of all, these sites are already a part of the Cause An Uproar campaign.


By creating a tangential experience for the user, as well as enhanced and separated sites with content aimed at specified target audiences, Cause An Uproar and the Big Cat Initiative will promote awareness in a manner unlike most other campaigns. When learning and awareness is fostered via means of entertainment, the capacity for growth is exponential. Consumers are spending a great deal of time online. Appropriating a small chunk of that precious time for the much needed opening of hearts and minds to the issues plaguing big cats across the globe, allows for the global awareness articulated in the goals of the BCI. With some minor adjustments to the current content, the addition of a website specifically aimed at youth, and continual reinforcement of support, the Big Cat Initiative can implement a campaign that will provide edutainment to the future minds of our nation while encouraging continued support, of an adult target audience, for the preservation of the beautiful big cats we all love so much.


Floyd, D. (Writer) (2008). Brain training: Video games and tangential learning [Web]. Retrieved


Gardner, H. (2006). Changing minds: The art and science of changing our own and other

people’s minds. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Kotler, P., & Lee, N. R. (2008). Social marketing: Influencing behaviors for good. (3 ed.).

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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