The ROM conducts a whale of a campaign

Who: The Royal Ontario Museum with BT/A and Broken Heart Love Affair. OMD Canada for media.

What: A campaign promoting the museum’s new exhibit, “Great Whales: Up Close and Personal.” Chief marketing officer Lori Davison describes it as a “blockbuster show” that was developed entirely in-house. It’s a successor to the 2017 exhibit “Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story,” which Davison said was one of the most successful shows in the museum’s history.

“From a timing perspective, it’s great exhibit to be reopening with because it’s got really broad appeal, and is one that families in particular will really love,” said Davison, who joined the ROM last year after spending six years with SickKids Foundation. “And a time when we’re thinking about the planet, I think we can provide people with a really meaningful experience around some themes that are very front and centre right now.”

When & Where: The campaign launched this week and runs until the exhibit closes in March. It is highlighted by a Snapchat execution designed to demonstrate the enormity of the blue whale featured in the exhibit, and is being complemented by out-of-home, broadcast, radio and a sidewalk drawing along the length of the ROM’s Bloor St. entrance.

Why: It’s ostensibly a campaign promoting a key exhibit, but it’s also doubling as a comeback campaign for the popular museum, which opened its doors to members on July 16 after being closed for 11 of the past 16 months. The ROM is now fully open to the public, albeit with reduced capacity of about 50%.

How: The campaign is constructed around a Snapchat execution that uses augmented reality to bring a blue whale to life over both the ROM’s famous crystal facade and the Toronto waterfront. Pointing their phone at one of four activation spots and then at sky makes the whales appear and swim across the screen.

“The media idea was to find a way to bring that scale and majesty to life,” said Davison. “It was ‘How can we help people feel the size of these things?'”

Users can also use Snapchat’s Face Lens to virtually swim with the whales, or summon a blue whale using the platform’s 3D World lens.

The ROM has also commissioned a street artist to create a full-size image of a blue whale outside of its main entrance. The drawing features various points of comparison, such as the new TTC streetcars, to give people a sense of the whales’ size. The Snapchat component is being augmented by traditional media including what Davison described as a “robust” digital campaign.

Why Snapchat: The use of Snapchat feels like a deliberate attempt by the ROM to attract younger visitors to the exhibit, but Davison said the primary focus was on something that could bring the whales to life in an immersive manner.

“[To achieve] any version of this experience, we were going to have to either create an app or make use of an existing app, which made more sense to us,” she said. “It wasn’t as much about trying to move into a different demographic as it was to try and create an experience that was going to be turnkey and accessible to a lot of people.”

Davison also noted that Snapshot has “amazingly high” penetration of around 900,000 people in the GTA, which exceeds the number of Twitter users in the area. The Snapchat lenses and exhibit ads will be promoted with placement in Snapchat Stories and through the platform’s Discover tab.

What does attraction marketing look like right now: People haven’t given much thought to cultural attractions over the past 18 months or so, which has left organizations like the ROM trying to determine what consumers’ mindset is and how comfortable they are about returning to public spaces.

“What we’re seeing just in the short time we’ve been open is very positive momentum,” said Davison. “We’re all existing with a much lower percentage of normal attendance, but the positive story is that there seems to be greater interest in re-engaging with cultural institutions.”

There are still several big questions around international tourism, she said, but noted that domestic tourism is a key factor for Toronto’s leading cultural institutions, which tend to attract visitors from around Ontario and and Quebec.

They also rely on what she called a “steady pulse” of international travellers that has not yet materialized but could provide a bump in traffic when the border opens to U.S. travellers next month. “It’s not insignificant, but the Canadian audience is the most important,” said Davison. “Toronto loves its ROM.”

Chris Powell