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Should animals get paid for being in ads? The Lion’s Share thinks so

Photography By GUCCI / Greg Lin Jiajie

We’re sold confectionery by drumming gorillas, insurance comparison services by anthropomorphised meerkats and luxury jewellery by majestic leopards.

Why? Because animals touch us deeply. But unlike humans, they can’t exactly bank a cheque for their marketing services. It begs the question: should animals get paid?

Christopher Nelius, a film director, and Rob Galluzzo, the founder of Australian production company FINCH, think so, which is why they started The Lion’s Share. “When we first came up with the idea, we thought this is the way the world should be,” Nelius says. “It’s such a simple and obvious concept.” The Lion’s Share enables brands using animals in their ads to donate a small percentage – 0.5 per cent – of their media spend to wildlife conservation projects and animal welfare.

Since beginning in 2018, The Lion’s Share has been backed by two of the most influential global forces a nascent environmental organisation could ask to be supported by: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Sir David Attenborough.

“My co-founder Rob got an email from one of the UN’s outreach people who basically said ‘we’re having a meeting in two weeks in New York, can you be there to pitch it?’,” Nelius says. “Rob hotfooted it to New York and won the room over with his passionate appeal. Enough people thought it was a great idea and the UNDP agreed to get on board.”

Securing Sir David Attenborough as an ambassador was equally fortuitous. “We connected through our extended network. Sir David has a right-hand man called Mark Rose who is a big conservationist in the UK. So we got an opportunity to pitch The Lion’s Share again,” Nelius explains.

GUCCI / Greg Lin Jiajie

GUCCI / Greg Lin Jiajie

Their goal is to raise AUD$100 million per year within four years for animal conservation projects – an ambitious target, but one Nelius says is achievable in the context of the top-tier corporations they are targeting. “If we can sign 1000 of the biggest brands globally, that’s where the power of the idea comes together… We can reach $100 million through volume and awareness.”

Nelius uses the example of the tiger, “a universally utilised, iconic animal” in the world of advertising. Whether they’re selling cereal or luxury watches, tigers are a go-to motif – yet there are less than 4000 of them remaining in the wild. The Lion’s Share encourages brands who use images of these majestic big cats to sell a product to give something back to tiger conservation.

It’s not about discouraging brands from using animals.

“We want businesses to use the images of animals in their ads; there’s a reason why they’re in 20 per cent of all commercials, there’s a reason why it works so well. The Lion’s Share isn’t a finger-wagging exercise, but rather an opportunity to give something back. We’re basically creating a royalty system for animals and the environment.”

The UNDP is responsible for handling the money going in and out of The Lion’s Share trust, collecting and disbursing the funds to global projects and programmes. “They also bring a level of legitimacy and transparency,” Nelius says. “So a business signing up and giving a million dollars a year knows it’s going to go to the right place.”

Mars, Incorporated, the multinational giant behind brands like Dove, Extra and Pedigree, was the first global brand to sign up and become a founding partner. Mars exemplifies the possibilities Nelius describes: they spend around $9 billion on advertising every year (and have a huge line-up of pet care brands), so 0.5 per cent of their media budget equates to big bucks. A target of $100 million looks possible in this light.

At a special event held at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art this month, Nelius touched everyone in the room with a simple statement: “T is for Tiger. We understand the world around us through our interactions with animals. We explain language to our children through animals. We’re not apart from their world but intimately connected to it and them.” 

As they continue to gain international momentum, Nelius says The Lion’s Share’s overarching goal is to influence a systematic change in marketing practices. “Of course, we’re trying to raise money for animal conservation. But what we’re really trying to do is positively change the system of marketing because we believe this is the right thing to do.”

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