Ugly fish makes a beautiful engagement strategy


Simon Watt is a biologist and science educator who worried that environmental campaigns focus disproportionately on mammals.

This is a real issue – the extinction of a bug might not seem too fascinating, but what if it’s the bug that keeps a major agricultural pest at bay, or pollinates a flagship tree species?

As Simon puts it, ‘The vast majority of life out there is dull and ugly.’ He put together the  Ugly Animal Preservation Society, and in terms of environmental communication, he has done everything right.

This excellent campaign, (actually a savvy front for the National Science and Engineering Competition) had all the ingredients it needed to reach new audiences and get people fired up for nature conservation. The winning formula included:

  • A good story. Ugly animals are the underdogs (ha!) and they need our support.
  • Strong visuals. Who wouldn’t want to look at ten pictures of the world’s ugliest animals?
  •  A list. New and old media alike adore a list. Lists make news where there was no news before, and the ‘top ten’ ugly animals did this perfectly.
  • A social media poll. Twitter users could vote for their top ugly animal. This gave them a stake in the result and meant they were likely to follow the Society’s story as it developed.
  • Interaction between social media and traditional media. The poll and resulting winner became a story which was enthusiastically picked up by digital and print media.
  • Celebrity tie ins. A mock ‘election campaign’ was voiced by well known actors and comedians.
  • Events. The roadshow took comedians and scientists to major UK cities to debate their favourite ugly animal. Attendees would then vote and each area would have a local ‘ugly mascot’.

They may be ugly animals, but used so cleverly, they’ve become a beautiful engagement strategy.