Exhibit benefits from viral tack

With its new traveling exhibit, Frogs: A Chorus of Col-ors, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) wanted to veer away from weighty topics which have populated past exhibitions.

With its new traveling exhibit, Frogs: A Chorus of Col-ors, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) wanted to veer away from weighty topics which have populated past exhibitions.

"We had a kid and young adult demo... and thought, why not do something out of the box, something people don't really think of a museum as doing?" says Latha Thomas, VP of marketing and communications for HMNS.

Offering a bright array of live frogs, HMNS wanted families to experience the animals, and knew it would need a campaign as light and fun as the exhibit itself.

With Spur Digital, its long-time marketing agency, HMNS developed a campaign to reinforce the exhibit's colorful message.

The agency targeted the greater Houston area, using the exhibit's lightheartedness to convince residents to see the frogs up close at the museum.

"You want to build a brand, you want to engage them, but you also want them to come in and pay money to view the exhibit," explains Steve Thomas, CEO of Spur Digital.

Looking to maximize exposure and awareness, Spur Digital developed an interactive microsite which used viral marketing as the backbone of the promotion.

Online visitors could watch tadpoles via the live "Frog Cam" or dress virtual frogs for a runway show and e-mail their creations to friends and family.

The integrated approach also used rich-media banner ads and e-mail blasts to promote an exhibit giveaway, as well as display and print advertising.

The frog fashion show e-post-card feature proved irresistible to visitors, and "Project Frogway" took off on a viral level.

Having children e-mail their "frog models" exposed more children to the site.

The "Frog Cam" was also a hit, and enabled children and parents to watch frogs in real time.

The site drew attention from parents who ultimately bought museum tickets.

Thanks to its popularity, the exhibit, which kicked off June 7, 2007, has been extended through January 6, 2008.

HMNS received 12.5 million impressions and 85,000 site visits, many of which translated into the 10,000 online ticket transactions during the campaign, not to mention tickets sold at the museum.

Having realized the full potential of Internet marketing, HMNS will continue moving toward new media to help promote its traveling exhibitions.

Museum representatives said they will work with Spur Digital to develop other microsites, like their recently launched online virtual book club for children, which coincides with exhibits.

PR Team: Spur Digital (Houston) and the Houston Museum of Natural Science

Campaign: Project Frogway

Duration: March to October 2007

Budget: $80,000 to $100,000

PRWeek's View

Recognizing the microsite they'd created was engaging and addictive enough that they could rely on the viral marketing component of "Project Frogway" to do the bulk of the work, Spur Digital was able to avoid using more traditional (and more expensive) advertising methods and media routes, keeping costs within the range of a local marketing budget. Their progressive thinking and success with the campaign not only helped brand the museum as innovative, creative leaders for using interactive media, but helped further shift the museum's marketing focus toward the Internet.

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