The Seafood Watch Program
The Seafood Watch program was developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to raise consumer awareness about the importance of purchasing seafood from sustainable sources. The program includes palm-sized folding purchasing guides and action cards that showcase different species of threatened ocean life. Goals for the program included attracting new audiences, presenting a positive choice for consumers, and keeping costs down.
Design director Jim Ales believes that smart effective communications—coupled with disciplined design—is critical to any sustainable program's success. "Our goal was to redefine what an environmental brand could achieve," Ales says. "Our focus was to attract new audiences, presenting a positive choice for consumers."
The design strategy used modern branding models and direct and clear messaging that was delivered in an accessible, consistent visual tone. The designers commissioned life science illustrations to be the foundation for the program. Ales' decision to use illustration rather than photography was intentional. "The highly accurate illustrations foster trust and nurture an emotional connection between people and animals."
Information architecture was developed to be easy to follow and was presented in several languages. The text was typeset in Interstate, which is a highly readable and clean sans serif font. White-coated recycled stock was used for printing and represented an intentional departure from the typical sustainable color palette of browns and greens. Four-color process plus aqueous (water-based) coating further enhanced the styling and aesthetic program. Thirty-six cards were printed on a sheet, using four-color process printing on a six-color press, and in-line aqueous to minimize waste and allow for a single pass on press. Instead of using shrink-wrap, packs of 250 were packaged using paper banding. Both the paper stock and printing process were FSC certified. Approximately fourteen million pocket guides are printed annually with a cost per unit of just under three cents.
Best practice production decisions combined with the program's efficient messaging strategy have proved highly successful. What began as a local consumer awareness campaign has, in the past five years, grown to include a family of seven regional pocket guides that are distributed by sixty-seven partnerships across the United States. The guides are being adopted by a growing list of Seafood Watch partnerships. In 2007, there were 80 partners, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and the Compass Group, the largest catering company in the western hemisphere.
Shorelines magazine is delivered three times a year to the aquarium's 75,000 members. It informs aquarium supporters about current events and programs and is designed to be a visual reminder of why members and donors choose to support the aquarium. This sixteen-page magazine is oversized, colorful, and inspiring. To reinforce the aquarium's grand visual experience, beautiful photos and graphics are the cornerstone of the design, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the space.
The page size is 9 x 13-inches, which prints sixteen pages on a single sheet size of28 x 41-inches without paper waste. The magazine prints 6/6 on a six-color press, one pass per side. The aquarium buys a one-year supply of postconsumer water recycled stock, which gives them an advantage in purchasing power, as well as manufacturing specifics. Paper and printing are both FSC certified.
Each issue, including paper, printing, and postage, costs approximately $1.08, which is less than 1 percent of a single membership. Shorelines magazine is a key component to keeping members connected to the aquarium, which boasts a membership retention rate of 65 percent, one of the highest in the nonprofit sector.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium produces a major direct marketing campaign annually, focused on its conservation programs. The campaign is expected to raise revenues, promote membership, and reinforce the overall brand.
One of the direct marketing pieces is called the Ocean's Edge, which is a typical direct marketing piece. "We see direct mail as an opportunity to introduce our brand to new audiences, as well as generate revenue," says Ales. "A visit to the aquarium is a visually inspiring experience, and we strive to emulate that through all our fundraising efforts and touchpoints." A combination of graphic components—including large color photographs, illustrations, and headlines—are designed to communicate content to the audience simply and quickly. "Building trust and emotional connections through direct mail requires respect for the recipient's intelligence, time, and attention," Ales notes.
The Ocean's Edge package is made up of a six-panel brochure, a response form, letterhead, a carrier envelope, and a return envelope. The brochure is printed 6/6 with one press pass per side, plus in-line aqueous coating on 120 lb. coated recycled white cover stock. The carrier envelope and letterhead are printed in combination, 6/0, with one press pass on 100 percent postconsumer waste white 70 lb. text. Paper and printing are both FSC certified.
The Ocean's Edge campaign consists of 125,000 packages at a total cost of approximately $135,000, including paper, printing, shipping, mail house fees, and postage. In the first six months, the campaign raised $1.65 million.
It's Never Easy Being Green
Even though the Seafood Watch Guides were featured in the New York Times Magazine's"100 Best Ideas" issue and have received press attention from major news outlets, the design team faced both internal and external opposition when they presented strategy that stressed simplicity and positive messaging. "We positioned the program to empower consumers through trust rather than guilt," Ales says. He and his team also made it a priority to avoid the typical "eco-styling" as part of their overall brand strategy. "Several organizations had introduced similar campaigns prior to ours," Ales says. "Although well-intentioned, they failed due to a lack of design input and direction. The design component was an afterthought. This assessment won over our critics and helped us get past some early hurdles regarding our design strategy."
Ales firmly believes that "green" as a category (starting with Earth Day 1970) has been too narrowly defined. As a result, he believes that designers now face an uphill battle in combating preconceived and ingrained biases. It has become a personal goal for Ales and his team to redefine how a conservation brand can be presented.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Brand Guidelines
These guidelines were established in 2005:
- Introduce imagery and messaging that inspires ownership
- Feature live animal photography
- Enhance visual impact, using full color when appropriate
- Incorporate custom proprietary logotype
- Partner with vendors winning FSC and Green e certifications
- Initiate and use a policy that incorporates a strict set of vendor requirements through all production channels