As we know, there are 3 kinds of media: paid-for media, owned media, and earned media.
The first two are easy: paid-for media is any space you pay for – TV, print, OOH, online.
Owned media is anything you own that can be used as media: delivery trucks, shop windows, packaging, mail.
But the real creative opportunity is the third one: earned media.
This is where no media exists until you make it happen.
An example would be the El Paso Zoo in Texas.
To attract visitors, they needed to get people talking about the zoo to make it more relevant, more topical and interesting.
What could they do that was different, that would get people talking, what would earn free media?
Valentine’s Day was coming up, every zoo would be doing the usual – adopt a pair of love birds, or similar.
How about if they went in the exact opposite direction?
Instead of celebrating the few happy couples, what if they went for a larger market?
Everyone’s had their heart broken, and a lot of people think Valentine’s Day is just another cynical way to make money.
Nobody is talking to that market, so the zoo could have that all to themselves.
And that’s exactly what they did.
On their Facebook page, they advertised that they would be happy to name a cockroach after your ex and feed it to a meerkat live online, on Valentine’s Day.
The event was called “QUIT BUGGING ME”.
You simply left a message on Facebook with your ex’s first name and initial, then at 2.15 on Valentine’s Day the cockroaches would be fed to the meerkats.
Meerkats love them, large Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are specially bred to supplement their diet.
Just days after that post on Facebook, 1,500 people had already left messages with the name of their ex.
Some, from as far away as Germany and Australia, were even organising parties to watch their ex get eaten.
The promotion has been covered by TV, newspapers, and online media around the world, all for free.
That’s earned media – it didn’t exist until they had the idea, and it didn’t cost a penny.
A few years before, Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle had a different idea.
It wasn’t earned-media, but it also created something from nothing.
They noticed they were paying $90,000 a year to get all their animal dung removed.
They thought, how about if we turn that round: if we don’t pay someone to take it away but we sell it.
And they began selling ZOO POO fertilizer at $20 for a two-gallon drum.
It’s a much better fertilizer because it only comes from herbivores: giraffes, hippos, gazelles, and zebras and it’s mixed with straw, grass, leaves, and woodchips.
Garden plants don’t have to rely on artificially mass-produced fertilizer made in factories.
Plus, they also sell WORM POO for $10 a pint.
This is compost that worms have eaten and expelled, so it has the added benefit of being “twice pooped”, and therefore exceptionally rich in nutrients for seedlings and potted plants
These zoos made something from nothing: no money, no media, no strategists, no brief.
And yet they’re more creative than most ad agencies.