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The Marketing Heft Behind Fat Bear Week
Bear 747 was crowned the winner.
People from around the world vote for the fattest bears in a weeklong run of bear-to-bear matchups.
The annual bracket has become something of an online phenomenon and a runaway marketing success for the remote national park.
It all started with a single before and after photo.
Like many wildlife areas, Katmai had webcams set up to film brown bears catching salmon in the Brooks River in the park. Park ranger and social media manager Mike Fitz noticed a comment where someone had posted a before and after photo of one of the bears pre- and post-hibernation. The transformation was incredible.
A Growing Campaign
That photo prompted a one-day campaign in 2014 that has since expanded to a weeklong March Madness-style tournament with spinoff competitions and international buzz.
Bears like Otis and 747 (aka Bear Force One) were once again established frontrunners in this year’s bear bout. The bears are brought to life through revealing bios that include educational facts on brown bears and their habitat.
The campaign is notable for its lack of any clear call to action besides voting for big bears. Yet it’s hard to deny its impact. Katmai is in a remote part of Alaska, and the area where the bears congregate is only available by plane or boat.
About 15,000 people visited the park in 2021, while nearly 11 million viewed the bears’ webcams online. Last year, 793,463 people cast a vote in the Fat Bear Week competition. That attention, spurred by coverage from the Today Show to the BBC, has driven donations from around the world.
It’s also amplified the park’s focus on conservation. This year offered a record number of salmon for bears to feast on. Amid news cycles dominated by extreme weather and climate change, Fat Bear Week offers a positive environmental story and plenty of chunky bear photos.