When our graphic designer, Kristin, first released the branding for the Society of Wetland Scientists’ (SWS) 2017 Annual Meeting, we all knew that the little tree frog that was featured was going to be a star. There had already been extensive discussion among the Society’s board as to the accuracy of the frog, in relation to the meeting’s destination: Puerto Rico. As a group of wetland enthusiasts, it made sense why they were so passionate about the frog’s geographical accuracy. With that conversation alone, it was clear that SWS had already embraced him as the unofficial mascot of the meeting; so, staff thought, “Why not just make it official?” From then on, the tree frog was at the center of all meeting promotions.
We started using the frog as a mascot as a way to promote different aspects of the meeting. At the end of each meeting-specific email, the frog spokesman would include an interesting fact about the meeting’s theme, field trips or hotel and convention spaces.
In a similar way, we would use these “Did You Know” facts to promote Puerto Rico as a destination. While the Society of Wetland Scientists is an international association with over 3,000 members, most of membership resides in the continental United States. Therefore, most of our annual meetings do, as well. With that in mind, it was that much more important to support this year’s “destination” location.
As members became more acquainted with the mascot through email, we determined that it was important to put a name to the face (plus, he was too cute not to name). And with the association already so invested in this little guy’s authenticity, it made sense to put the power in the membership’s hands.
We polled the membership on Facebook and Twitter, keeping it as simple as possible, by asking them to either comment on the Facebook post or tweet at us with #namethefrog. Admittedly, suggestions were hard to come by at first; however, once prominent members within the Society started submitting suggestions, others soon followed.
By hosting the contest via social media, we knowingly limited the member response. Yet, it was strategically marketed to encourage others to “like” and “follow” our social media pages. Those who had subscribed to our pages were then rewarded by having the privilege to vote for the frog’s name.
In the end, SWS cared just as much for the authenticity of the frog’s name as they did for his physical form. “Humberto” was chosen specifically for its connection to the Spanish word for wetland: humedal.
We used the momentum from the #namethefrog contest to create Humberto’s own Twitter account. Those facts that we had been including in the meeting emails were then also highlighted as #frogfacts on Twitter. While the account was specifically created to promote the annual meeting, we’ve since used it to cross-promote other SWS event and marketing campaigns. For instance, to celebrate Earth Day, we’re encouraging followers to share and tag us in their Earth Day photos, using #SWSEarthDay. To kick off this initiative, we had Humberto share one of his photos.
Social media, specifically Twitter, has enabled members to actively engage with Humberto. It has become a main source of meeting information and a direct line to ask meeting-specific questions. Any interaction helps to increase visibility, not only for the meeting, but for the Society, as well.
Humberto was originally intended to be an outlet for relaying important meeting information, organically. He has since formed a personal brand that has helped reinforce the overall brand of the 2017 meeting, and to some extent, rebrand the Society of Wetland Scientists, as a whole. SWS will always be a professional society, focused on wetland science, but its membership has shaped the Society into one that appreciates fun, too.
Mascots won’t work for every association, nor will they help for every meeting. In this case, from his inception, SWS was invested in this frog. Members’ dedication to accuracy, paired with their willingness to embrace his mascot status, made this marketing campaign successful.