As well as being simple enough to work on any medium – whether that’s Instagram or print ads – these symbols are often deeply rooted in the heritage of the brand. In Lacoste’s case, the crocodile dates back to the beginnings of the brand itself when its founder, French tennis legend René Lacoste, was making waves in the tennis world against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties.

After a particularly memorable Davis Cup match in Boston in 1923, an American journalist christened Lacoste as ‘The Alligator’ in reference to a bet between the tennis player and his coach over a crocodile suitcase. In 1927, an artist called Robert George was commissioned to bring the crocodile to life as the brand’s logo, and the rest is history.

The news that Lacoste had switched up its crocodile symbol for the first time in its history last year would have undoubtedly come as a surprise to many of us – but its motive turned out to be rather different than your average rebrand story. Orchestrated by BETC, the brand’s Save Our Species campaign with the International Union for Conservation of Nature saw it temporarily swap out its green embroidered crocodile for ten endangered animals on a set of limited edition polo shirts.

The stunt wasn’t Lacoste’s first foray into conservation. The brand was already involved with a non-profit programme called Save Your Logo, which collaborates with brands to quite literally help save the lives of their animal mascots. In Lacoste’s case this involved working with the charity to help preserve the planet’s population of crocodiles and their natural habitat, alongside the charity’s other partners such as French ski resort Val d’Isère, which is known for its eagle emblem.

Save Our Species took things a step further, spotlighting the stories of some of the planet’s most endangered creatures. The California condor, for instance, is the largest flying bird in America but the distinctive black and red bird’s survival is threatened by lead poisoning and the human-induced garbage that pollutes its habitat. Then there’s the Anegada Ground iguana, native to the British Virgin Island of Anegada, whose habitat is shrinking due to cattle breeding, the Cao-vit Gibbon, a flightless parrot called the Kakapo, and the Sumatran Tiger.

In a clever twist, only 1,775 polos were produced in total, tallying up with the total number of each animal known to be left in the wild as estimated by IUCN species experts, ranging from 40 Burmese Roofed Turtles to 67 Javan Rhinos. “Lacoste wanted to demonstrate that its environmental responsibility goes beyond the simple respect of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) charters: it wanted to take action, and hopefully show the way to other brands,” says BETC Client Director Fanny Buisseret.

Launched during Lacoste’s show at Paris Fashion Week, Save Our Species had all the hallmarks of a viral ad campaign – but with added purpose. Available exclusively online, the polo shirts sold out in just 24 hours. Crucially, it also led to greater visibility for IUCN and awareness of its important conservation work.

Lacoste wanted to demonstrate that its environmental responsibility goes beyond the simple respect of CSR charters: it wanted to take action, and hopefully show the way to other brands

Not only did donations to IUCN increased fourfold during the campaign; the collaboration allowed the charity to introduce a conservation programme for the Burmese roofed turtle; and inquiries from brands doubled as a result, including companies in previously untapped sectors such as sports, luxury tourism and supermarket retailers.

Despite the scale of its reach, the campaign ended up costing less then €60,000 to pull together. “This was a big learning both for the agency and Lacoste,” says Buisseret. “Any brand can come together on a simple but powerful idea and it does not necessarily require a lot of money to get people’s attention, but can have big impact for the cause.”

The retailer hasn’t stopped there either; a second edition of the campaign is set to take place online and in stores on May 22 to coincide with the International Day for Biological Diversity. Each store taking part will dedicate a special edition of the brand’s classic polo shirt to a new endangered species – ranging from Yemeni Mouse-Tailed Bat at its London Covent Garden store to the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat in Tokyo.


From the 2019 campaign

We’re all well aware by now that campaigns attempting to combine social issues with a sales message can often fall flat, but brand purpose is arguably even trickier to pull off when it comes to partnering up with non-profits.

One successful example is eco-minded retailer Patagonia’s association with the 1% for the Planet initiative, which commits it to donating millions of pounds to grassroots environmental organisations every year. But for every Patagonia, there are gaffes such as breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!’s questionable partnership with The Sun’s (now defunct) Page 3.

Save Our Species is a prime example of brand purpose done well, thanks to Lacoste’s careful alignment of its values with those of IUCN, and BETC’s unusually playful approach to the serious subject of wildlife conservation.

by Anniek Corporaal