We recently sat down with Bonnie Chia, the Head of Brand at WWF International and asked her insights on some brand marketing related questions.
Bonnie is a passionate storyteller with more than 10 years of success in the field of marketing and communications, from advertising, public relations to brand development. She cut her teeth in the industry with successful stints at the top ad and PR agencies across the globe from LA to Taipei to Singapore, working on internationally renowned brands like P&G, SK-II, ASUS, Panasonic, IHG, etc. In 2012, she joined the WWF’s Earth Hour global team in Singapore, where she switched her focus to marketing and branding for social good and sustainability, leading the global strategy and planning for the world’s largest grassroots movement. Now the Head of Brand for WWF International, her portfolio expands to include the development of the WWF brand globally. She is a creative but also result-oriented marketeer – delivering impactful, award-winning global and regional campaigns.
Tell us about yourself and your role at WWF
I was born in Malaysia, spent my childhood in Taiwan, schooled in Los Angeles and now live in Singapore. I care deeply about making a difference to our community and environment, and I consider myself a ‘practical creative’ and a ‘reasonable perfectionist’. As a mother of two young kids, I am dedicated to and passionate about making our world a better place for them.
I joined the WWF’s Earth Hour global team in Singapore as its Brand Manager in 2012, fulfilling my long-time dream of working for social good. I lead the global brand and marketing strategy for Earth Hour, the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, and I fueled its growth from 154 to over 188 countries and territories. Now, as the Head of Brand for WWF International, my role has expanded to include overseeing the WWF brand development globally while continuing to push the Earth Hour brand forward.
How has Earth Hour created brand awareness?
Earth Hour started out as a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney in 2007. Since then, it has grown rapidly to over 188 countries and territories in 2018, trended in over 33 countries and achieved more than 3.5 billion impressions from Jan-Mar 2018. Earth Hour is an open-source movement organised by WWF and volunteer organisations worldwide. Its unique open-source model means that anyone, from individuals to communities to businesses and governments, can use the Earth Hour brand and even tap into the shared resources that we put out to run their own Earth Hour event or campaign. With its digital-first planning and social media-centric strategy, the Earth Hour brand deeply engages with its followers and continues to grow with every new generation of people who are concerned about our ever more urgent message on climate change and loss of nature.
Brands in the Top 100 are getting younger and younger each year, how does Earth Hour stay on top of the game?
Earth Hour is a movement that has always attracted the younger generation who aspires to make a positive impact in the world. Strong emphasis is placed on digital media content and engagement to target the youth and educators. Considered a forerunner in the use of the open-source model in the NGO sector, Earth Hour keeps itself relevant by allowing people of different countries to use its brand in their own ways and languages to help amplify its key message as it relates to their local situation, whether it's deforestation in the Amazon and Africa, air pollution in China or coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. In other words, the key message of Earth Hour can be manifested in many forms around the world, which reinforces both the idea of diversity as well as unity. The team at WWF International keeps itself up to date with latest digital trends and are constantly exploring new ways and external partners to engage with our target audience. We especially learn a lot from every batch of young interns that join us every year!
Do you think that your brand connects to consumers on an emotional level and if so, how have you achieved that?
Yes, it is especially important that we connect with our audience on an emotional level. Right from the beginning, Earth Hour has been about the collective power of individuals to create positive change for our environment. Our aim has always been to persuade people that their individual actions count and there is no better way to do that than to tell and share stories of other amazing individuals who are working to protect our planet. We collect such stories from our extensive network of local WWF offices and volunteer groups around the world and document them in photos or short videos that can be shared on social media. The offical video for each year’s Earth Hour is also crafted to deliver maximum emotional impact, with a heart-thumping popular song and images of celebration during the hour as well as year-round efforts by individuals and groups around the world to protect the planet.
How does the Earth Hour brand engage with customers in a meaningful way?
In the more than 10 years since its inception, Earth Hour has played an important role in uniting the voices of ordinary people to influence the local and global political agenda. It engages and unites millions of people around the world to take action for our environment, our nature. As a subsidiary brand of WWF, it serves as a powerful public outreach channel to put the most urgent, pressing environmental issues - such as the alarming rate of nature loss and the need for immediate and substantial legislative commitment - under the global spotlight. Turning off the lights for an hour is a symbol of our commitment but it is only the beginning of so much more we can do beyond that hour. Over the years, Earth Hour has achieved many people-powered outcomes, from the passing of a marine protection law in Russia to banning single-use plastics in the Galapagos to planting the world’s first Earth Hour forest in Uganda, just to name a few. It has encouraged people to engage in public discourse about environmental issues and inspired a whole new generation of environmentally conscious youths who will hopefully grow up to lead and carry on this global movement.
Are there any brand strategies that you are able to share with us that have been successful for you?
One of the challenges that any brand faces is how to change people’s perception of the brand as it evolves over time. Earth Hour became phenomenally well known in a very short period of time but had a hard time moving the beyond the general perception that it is only about the ‘hour’. A number of years ago, we began to focus on communicating the idea of going ‘beyond the hour’, adding a plus sign to the Earth Hour logo to symbolise the evolution of the brand and activating supporters during other times of the year. However, we just could not match up to the engagement level of the ‘hour’ itself. As an NGO with limited resources and capacity, and often with little to no promotional budget, it became increasingly difficult to engage with audiences outside of the ‘hour’ through organic reach. Therefore, we decided to change our strategy -- instead of coming up different campaigns to engage people throughout the year, we began to focus our energy and resources into making the ‘hour’ itself bigger and better. Our goal was to make sure that on the night of Earth Hour itself, the media will spotlight our most pressing environmental issues globally and locally, beyond just mentioning the ‘lights out’. What we thought was our biggest weakness was really our biggest strength. While Earth Hour continues to support and inspire environmental actions all year round, we recognize that Earth Hour is what it is because of that hour and it should continue to be the beacon of light that people look to for inspiration and direction. This strategic decision is very much in line with my own belief that a successful brand must be authentic to its core business and people to stay relevant. That’s why Earth Hour is still growing and the ‘hour’ stays relevant to people globally.
Bonnie Chia will be speaking at the Brand Marketing Leaders Summit taking place in Singapore on April 24 & 25. Her keynote will be adressing 'Emoting with the Consumer: A Brand Strategy that Works'. You could find more details here.