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  • Ludovica Di Giulio

Cats save fish: Sheba and the innovative campaign to protect the seas

The coral reefs of our planet are in danger. If we do nothing, this vital ecosystem will disappear forever. But there is hope. We launched the world’s largest coral reef restoration program to preserve and restore the beauty of our oceans.

These are the words of Denise Truelove, head of the global marketing strategy for the company’s cat food brand, Sheba, talking about the advertising campaign for the protection of the seabed.

We’ve all seen that harrowing viral image of a seahorse with a tail around a Q-tip. The marketing department and the creative communications agency for Sheba wanted to create a contrasting image of hope, to show that humanity can do something positive.

This was the beginning of an incredible 12-month journey, sometimes a difficult one, in which fundamental questions were asked about the brand and the intrinsic vision.

How can a cat food brand help the planet? How big does a thing have to be to be seen from space? How can we use YouTube tools to enable anyone, anywhere, to support this cause?

Grow coral: watch this - The desire to make a difference

Consumers' expectations of brands go further and further beyond the exchange of money and products. Especially for animal owners. The next generation of brand promotion solutions will focus on creating greater mutual value, not only by offering high-quality products but also by having a positive impact on people, animals and the planet.

This campaign began with a statement: cats love fish. Sheba had already committed to using 100% sustainable fish in their products, but it is not enough to stop what is wrong. Significant change must be initiated. A quarter of the fish species come from coral reefs, which is why we decided that, as a brand of cat food, we must help prevent the destruction of this precious ecosystem.

It wasn’t just a good project. We wanted to create an exchange of values where consumers could see the reef, but also participate and make a tangible difference.

HOPE, the hope for a better world

Thanks to modern technology, if you can dream something you can also realize it. Thanks to a system of reef stars, steel structures that encourage the growth of new corals, we have launched the largest program in the world to restore coral reefs. The program is supported by the Hope Grows campaign, with which they restored a barrier by writing the word "HOPE" (hope), so that it is also shown on Google Maps. There were many phone calls with Google to understand how big the writing had to be to be seen from the satellite of Google Maps: in the end it was defined the size of an Olympic pool.

They also worked with Mars' in-house team of sustainability experts and some of the world’s best coral experts to ensure that the reef worked biologically and wasn’t just a sham. It was a marketing operation at the speed of mother nature and it took almost two years to grow the coral reef before the campaign was published.

But Sheba didn’t just want to create a beautiful project, they wanted to create an exchange of values in which consumers could see the reef, but also participate and make a tangible difference. For this, YouTube’s monetization provided both the means and scalability.

Any YouTube channel with more than 1,000 subscribers or 4,000 hours of organic visualization can monetize views.

Sheba’s documentary series "Cats That Rule the World" had already helped meet the eligibility criteria, giving consumers-targets the opportunity to help fund coral reef restoration simply by watching videos.

Transforming a Sheba brand channel into a content-centric hub that audiences would like to interact with (with each visualization generating revenue for reefs restoration) requires a different way of thinking.

When creating video content, they needed to change the tone of voice and prioritize content over the brand. Again they gave a lesson in marketing, following the suggestions of the most engaging channels of the platform.

They then used a sequence of video ads to direct existing viewers to videos about coral growth and encouraged them to discover the content further. This helped to keep viewers' attention high during the campaign. One person said, "Okay, it worked. I will buy Sheba products even if I have no cats".

A great achievement both for the brand and for the coral reefs

Corals now cover 70% of the site, compared to the initial 1%, with a 300% increase in the presence of fish over a two-year period, which made a significant difference to the livelihood of the locals.

In terms of more traditional metrics: 440,000 hours of content were displayed in the first three months, which translated directly into funding for the future creation of coral reefs thanks to advertising revenue. There were also people who stated that they would buy Sheba to support the campaign, despite not owning a cat.

Sheba’s product sales ROI was over 300% in major markets around the world, which is clearly a great result for brand growth.

What Sheba teaches us

There is no more time to talk and think about strategies for sustainability initiatives. No one has the perfect solution to restore coral reefs or save the world, but Sheba felt the need to start somewhere. The message for all brands and marketers is "Start doing something".

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