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How FINCH and David Attenborough Started Giving Back the Lion’s Share

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Last week the Lion’s Share team shared their vision at the United Nations. Christopher Nelius, director and co-founder of The Lion’s Share, tells LBB’s Adam Bennett how the UN-backed initiative is protecting habitats

How FINCH and David Attenborough Started Giving Back the Lion’s Share

It’s easy to panic. The ongoing and escalating climate crisis proving is devastating for the natural world, with humans estimated to have wiped out 60% of all animal populations since 1970.

As the issue becomes more and more prevalent in the minds of the public, brands and advertisers are starting to stand up and take notice. But there remains a question of whether enough meaningful action is being taken by an industry whose entire purpose is to influence hearts and minds. 

For Christopher Nelius and Rob Galluzzo, standing by wasn’t an option anymore. Chris, a director signed to FINCH, explains: “I had just returned home from shooting a teaser pitch film for a series about conservationists, which filmed in Africa and Alaska, so I must have had the 'conservation problem' rattling around in my subconscious. Then one day I was at home watching the cricket on the couch and there was a recurring commercial that had a CGI-rendered family of cheetahs in it selling phone data and it dawned on me. Brands have always used the image of animals to help sell products. But in the real world those animals are often on the verge of extinction. And that’s totally wrong.”

And so, one year ago, The Lion’s Share was born. The idea is simple - if a brand is using animals in their ad campaign (be they real, animated or computer-generated), they give a small percentage of their media spend over to the Lion’s Share fund. From there, that money goes to finance wildlife conservation and animal welfare projects through the fund’s partner - the United Nations Development Programme.

“I told this idea to Mike Hilliard, one of my great EPs at Finch, who in his wisdom took it to Rob [Galluzzo, Founder of FINCH] who really connected with the idea. Mike had the genius idea of making it a portion of the overall ad spend, and we came up with the name and then felt like we had something that might actually work!” says Chris.

Was it always the plan to get the UN involved? “No, we didn't expect that at all! The partnership with UNDP came as a challenge from Andrew Clarke at MARS [the first brand to officially commit to the project], and to his credit Rob made that happen. He found an 'in' at UNDP and they loved the idea, especially the head of the UNDP Achim Steiner.”

Sure enough, having the UN on board took the project to another level. “Being able to have their backing and using something as iconic as UN GA as a platform is a huge boost to us and should show brands how legitimate this is. And that partnership means that any money that goes into The Lion's Share will go to conservation under stringent vetting and auditing processes.”

It was also through that relationship that The Lion’s Share was able to attract the international face of wildlife conservation - Sir David Attenborough. The Planet Earth presenter introduced a case study for the project on behalf of the UN with a video, which you can watch below. 

Chris explains, “Sir David came through our colleagues at the UNDP and UNEP once we had established that partnership. They have an existing relationship with his foundation and its founder Mark Rose, who has also become a fantastic soldier for The Lion's Share too. It took a few late-night phone conversations to convince him that we were for real, but pretty soon they came on board and it's been not only a huge honour, but extremely helpful to getting the message across.

“Sir David is, in my opinion, the original 'influencer' - and the amount of energy he puts into fighting for biodiversity on this planet, well into his 90s, is just incredibly motivating and a lesson to us all. Get out there and do something. Individuals, brands, sign up and get involved. It's easy.”

Getting those brands to sign up was always going to be one of the biggest challenges for this kind of project, and so it initially proved for The Lion’s Share. “In the world of CSR and social impact, ideas come and go - and things can get lost, especially with global brands. Sometimes the bureaucracy can feel insurmountable. We've had to battle that, but we've never had anyone say they didn't love the idea. That's been easy. It's getting it over the line with different departments that it can get difficult and that's where you need to be resilient and never stop selling the value in it for the brand. And that value is huge- the publicity to the public and their consumers, the worker retention, the effect it has on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of which most brands are part of these days. 

“But the most effective we've ever been has always been when someone in a high position in a brand takes a personal look at it, and then championed it for personal reasons. I've learnt through this experience that it's misleading to say 'C-suite' people don't care - actually a lot of them do, and you can appeal to their sense of right and wrong.”

The biggest brand-side champion thus far has been Mars and industry supporters include Clemenger BBDO, Nielsen, JC Decaux and The Economist Group. To date, the money raised by the campaign has protected 260,000 hectares of rainforest, digitised ranger communication technology to prevent Elephant poaching, and is restoring 5.7 million square kilometres of coral reef each year. 

That success has taken The Lion’s Share to the UN’s Social Good Summit on Sunday 22 September. Alongside Greta Thunberg, Alexandra Villasenor, and Christiana Figueres amongst others, advertisers and creatives such as David Droga discussed the future of biodiversity following the success of the project. 

This was followed by the UNGA Party for Good on the same day. There the team celebrated The Lion’s Share’s Cannes Grand Prix win (it took the inaugural Sustainable Development Goals Grand Prix at Cannes Lions in June) - and the project picked up the UN’s Champion for Humanity award, ‘for its contribution to scalable progress towards advancing a better world for all’. On Tuesday, a special conference entitled The Lion's Share at UNGA 74: Harnessing Advertising for Good was held, and attended by UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, Actor and Goodwill Ambassador Nicolaj Coster -Waldau [famous for portraying Jaime Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones], Dr Sylvia Earle and David Droga. It’s fair to say the project has been a success story.


But to truly measure the impact and success of the project, one will have to take a long-term view. Chris explains, “The Lion's Share isn't a CSR idea. It's not a project for the next three years, say. It’s a small yet distinct change in the way brands do their advertising - it’s saying that from now on and forever, when we use an animal to sell our product, we want to give a little back. If we use a real cat, or a cartoon tiger, or a CGI ostrich, the consumer knows that a little money will go back towards the preservation of the biodiversity on our planet. 

“If we can sign most of the top 1000 brands in the world, we could be raising $100 million every year for conservation, in perpetuity.”

It might still be all too easy to slip into despair, and question whether more can be done to fight back against climate and ecological breakdown. But the success of The Lion’s Share suggests it’s never too difficult to make a difference. 

You can find out more about The Lion’s Share, and how your company can get involved, here.

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Categories: Environment, Corporate, Social and PSAs

FINCH, Wed, 25 Sep 2019 12:49:09 GMT