business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

This is what happens when you lose control of your narrative. (And, perhaps, when your narrative wasn't authentic to begin with.)

USA Today reports that SeaWorld Entertainment has announced that it will stop breeding killer whales in its facilities, and that the whales it currently has will be the last as it eliminates theatrical orca shows.

And, it said, it will shift to what it is calling "new, inspiring, natural orca encounters" for the immediate future, moving away from the killer whale shows that brought it enormous scrutiny from animal rights activists, which had its apogee with the release of the documentary Blackfish, which effectively portrayed an organization far more interested in profit than the well-being of the whales.

According to the story, "SeaWorld also announced a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States to create educational programs and advocate for the health and welfare of marine life. The company said it would spend $50 million over five years to rescue animals and fight commercial fishing of whales and seals and fight the shark-finning."

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby released a prepared statement: ""SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals. As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter."

You can actually reduce Manby's statements down to the same two words uttered by a famous fighter when he realized he was being out-punched: "No más"

It is very simple. SeaWorld realized that no matter what it did, the narrative surrounding its whales - which essentially have been the centerpiece of its marketing efforts for decades - now focused on how they were being abused in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Even when they produced TV commercials featuring employees talking about how much they love the whales, those employees looked utterly unpersuasive, like they were making a hostage tape rather than a commercial.

The argument here has less to do with animal rights and more to do with simple marketing intelligence. SeaWorld had a story that ceased to resonate with the public, and it had to make a change. The question is whether it waited too long to do so.

Whatever happens, this situation has been an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: