Museums + Heritage Awards 2014 – Award winners review: Horniman Museum and Gardens

Winner in the Marketing Campaign category - Walrus on the Move

A large taxidermy specimen of a walrus has stood in the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ Natural History Gallery since the organization was founded in 1901. For generations the walrus has been one of the most popular exhibits in the museum – perhaps in part as it is ‘over stuffed’ and does not look true to life. When a request was made by the Hayward Touring exhibitions to borrow the walrus for a touring exhibition the aim was to ensure that visitors didn’t feel the walrus’s lack; rather that they should enjoy its holiday rather than endure its absence.

While he was away at Turner Contemporary, Margate, his place at the Horniman was filled by a giraffe sculpture and a ‘walrus wall’ where visitors could leave messages/send postcards to the walrus. As well as minimizing any potential negative impact, additional objectives were to raise awareness and deepen understanding of the walrus, to raise visitor numbers and to promote and sell toy replica walruses in the gift shop.

With no budget for the campaign, plans focused on creating an integrated campaign capitalising on visitors’ existing relationship with the walrus. Social media, user generated content, online, print and broadcast media were all harnessed throughout the campaign. A film of the Walrus being packed and transported to Margate was made, activities continued in the gallery and on social media throughout his absence and a wandering walrus competition asked visitors to send their holiday photos of the toy walrus.

Resulting in over 70 online print and online articles and broadcast pieces, many entries to the Wandering Walrus competition, the campaign also increased visitor numbers by 12% on the previous year. Twitter followers grew by 58% and visits to the website increased by 35%.

This integrated campaign approach not only managed to extend the story of the walrus’ departure but encouraged audience engagement throughout. The playful tone that was adopted celebrated the walrus as a fascinating object as well as an icon of the Horniman. This very cost effective campaign proved to be a resounding success, turning what could have been a negative into a very positive result.