Case Study: Johannesburg Zoo’s Live Tweeting Badger

Here’s an intriguing message from a honey badger called BG: ”@zootweetslive Hi, I’m BG. The World’s First LIVE Tweeting Honey Badger. Tweeting from my high-tech enclosure at the Jo’burg Zoo.”

The honey badger is a small carnivore listed as the “most fearless animal in the world” in the Guinness Book of Records. He’s also the mascot for Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa. It is quite obvious that the zoo doesn’t have a big budget, but it could always use a few more visitors to improve the lives of its inhabitants.


For Hellocomputer/Draftfcb the brief was: get people excited about the animals at the zoo, share news on the upcoming events and as a result drive up the visitor numbers. This may sound like a lot to ask for from a low-budget campaign, but the agency managed to execute a simple idea (with almost no budget), which went far beyond the initial goals.

“It was a very spontaneous and organic campaign that evolved from a simple and newsworthy idea in combination with a seeding strategy. There were no demands from the client except some exposure for the zoo. We certainly didn’t anticipate as much PR as we got. We thought it would be a bonus if we could up the zoo’s followers by a few thousand and were very happy with the 1833% increase we in fact achieved’. But as the ingredients of the campaign were quite charming and funny a lot of the radio stations and news picked it up for soft news,” says Kerry Friend, Head of Creative and Nathan Gates, Creative Technologist from Hellocomputer/Draftfcb.



The agency approached the client with a prototype made out of a hamster cage. Seeing the idea in this form, the client decided to run with it. As a result, Johannesburg Zoo introduced the world’s first live tweeting badger called BG. BG became their social media ambassador, documenting his daily life, sharing his thoughts on current affairs (and his neighbours) and notifying his followers about future events.


But how do you get a badger to use Twitter? BG’s enclosure was fitted with sensors. His various activities triggered the sensors and sent out tweets describing what he was doing or thinking. The technology itself wasn’t at all expensive or complex.

Nathan Gates, Creative Technologist from Hellocomputer/Draftfcb, explains: “It wasn’t too complicated. It took a few tries to get it running. We were working in the zoo with live animals. We had to build something, go to the zoo to test it and then change it. But it’s still fairly simple and the initial spend on technology was around $1,000. It was quite cost-effective. Normally you would spend the time and money for other people to do it, but as we had the skills inhouse we managed to save a lot.”

BG with selfie tweet in situ


OK, a honey badger can’t write his own tweets. But for the campaign to work, he had to become a funny and lovable personality. All the small details contributed to the end result – a global viral.

Two copywriters produced BG’s tweets. At the beginning, it was hard to hit the right note and developing a personality took a lot of effort. Eventually, most of the tweets were prewritten at the beginning of every month. Topical tweets were added on the go. It took around 3 days to create 1 month’s content. The prewritten tweets were split into categories, mainly triggered by BG’s behaviour around his enclosure at the zoo.

Kerry Friend from Hellocomputer/Draftfcb says there was no problem getting enough high-quality content from BG: “All the tweets are prewritten and stored in a database. When BG triggers the sensors in his enclosure, the relevant tweets are sent out. But we are constantly writing the tweets to stay topical: information about the zoo or current events. There is no one tweeting on behalf of BG, it is all triggered by him. He is a very active animal. As a badger he’s always moving around the cage so he triggers the sensors around 30-40 times a day. We actually had to limit it to only a few tweets a day as he doesn’t always tweet 20 times and it all depends on the different seasons.”


“Will and Kate just made a royal baby. I just made a royal mess.#diggingparty #RoyalBaby” — Tweeting Badger (@zootweetslive) July 23, 2013

“So badass the SA National Defense Force named an armoured personnel carrier after me. #ratel #bulletproof” — Tweeting Badger (@zootweetslive) July 21, 2013

“Have you heard that joke about my neighbours? (Gonna tell you anyway) How do porcupines mate? Veeeeeeeery carefully #hehe” — Tweeting Badger (@ zootweetslive) July 23, 2013

Badger Tweets about Elephant


Along with a comprehensive digital seeding strategy of the initial campaign video, the Jo’burg Zoo put up posters that humorously depicted the world from a honey badger’s point of view. After giving people a small taste of the kind of humour they could look forward to on BG’s Twitter feed, the posters encouraged them to follow ‘The World’s First LIVE Tweeting Badger’ on Twitter and reminded them to visit BG’s enclosure before they left the zoo. People were also steered toward following BG’s Twitter account via a similarly witty email campaign.

In the words of Kerry Friend: “Through this strategy, we were lucky enough to pick up some traction. It was pretty conventional actually, standard seeding and digital protocol. The process took quite a bit of time as did trailing all the social activity that is ongoing. TV news get their topical news from social blogs. Once one of them picks it up they all seem Kerry Friend to reference each other.”



By the time BG had tweeted 50 times, his followers had grown to 5,000 (this was within a week). He has appeared on Times Live, Huffington Post and many more websites. Most importantly, Johannesburg Zoo now has a big network to share its news with.

Kerry Friend and Nathan Gates on the amazing ROI of 618%: “We have a network of people now to communicate about the zoo. From a $1,000 spend we ended up with over 17 million dollars’ worth of press for BG and the zoo. That was a tough one to find out because we don’t have a global tracking system. In South Africa it is quite tricky to get information on viewership and so all of the tracking was done manually. We later enlisted the help of a New Zealand media house to audit the PR figures for us.

It actually cost more than the campaign. It cost us 5,000 New Zealand dollars to pay a New Zealand media house to track the media we got globally. Initially we thought it would be mainly local and maybe we’d pick up some global traction. But it wasn’t a strategic objective to focus on global – that just happened organically.”


The Johannesburg tweeting badger is still going strong. His charm and wittiness keeps people hooked. The creators agree that keeping the campaign fresh can be hard at times, but through lots of hard work, the copywriters make sure BG stays topical. The zoo now has a great database for sharing news and events around the daily lives of its residents.

BG Tweet - Noisy Neighbours




It takes guts to run with such a brave idea. The zoo’s bold initiative certainly paid off. Importantly, Hellocomputer/Draftfcb didn’t just place a piece of paper with a few words about the idea in front of the client, they actually created a prototype to help everyone visualise the concept and to explain how it was done.


It was a great idea to place smart sensors inside the enclosure and it took attention to detail and clever technology to ensure everything actually worked properly. Nathan Gates, Creative Technologist from Hellocomputer/Draftfcb, sees technology not as the driver of the activity but rather as a tool to bring the idea to life: “Technology should be there to liberate the idea. With a lot of these campaigns you see an overuse of technology for its sake. This was a very good idea with simple technology to bring the idea to life.”


The same agency also created another great campaign: Toyota RAV4’s Outdoor Website (featured elsewhere in this book). One of the key elements in that campaign was to document the creative process and release it as additional video content later to draw more attention. The same applies to the Tweeting Badger.



Warren Harding



“I believe the campaign was a success for 2 main reasons. It firstly gave us something unexpected, a tweeting badger. Giving a voice to the Johannesburg Zoo resident allowed us to engage with the zoo from a different point of view: seeing the zoo through the eyes of BG. Secondly, it was a smart yet very simple idea. It was not complicated, the idea was so simple and captured Twitter followers’ imagination and all we had to do was sit back and enjoy what BG was doing.

Also, the major outstanding point of the campaign were the results. A single clever and simple idea delivered amazing results for the Johannesburg Zoo with 2013 zoo visits increasing by 4.5% and event attendance by 48%; the zoo was voted Jo’burg’s Top Tourist Attraction. Through the campaign they also built a loyal and active social following. From having almost no presence in social media, the zoo increased their Twitter following by 1833% in a short space of time.

You don’t need big budgets to have a successful campaign. The total budget for this campaign was only $1,000. Keep the idea simple. Although some serious tech was used to make the campaign work, what the audience got was so simple and effective.

Do something unexpected. Giving a voice to a zoo resident allowed followers to experience the zoo through the eyes of a badger, in an entertaining and witty way.

Lastly, content is important. Social media gives many brands a platform to engage with their consumers, but the content on the platforms determines the success. The content used by the Johannesburg Zoo was excellent in that it was relevant, entertaining and tailored to Twitter.”



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