Natural organisms as unpaid marketing tools: exploitation?

Have you ever wondered why so many more big companies are now using natural ‘mascots’ of creatures to shill their wares? Well, for one – the talent is mostly free, and secondly (and this is why it’s on the rise), the state of 3D rendering/animation tech makes it now really cheap and creatively malleable.

I have no idea if any jurisdiction out there has ever tried this but here’s what I’d like to see as a law in terms of use of wildlife depictions for marketing purposes:

Outside of conservation awareness campaigns and efforts, any use of wildlife image for commercial purposes must pay a tariff that gets returned to research and conservation efforts of the species used.

That’s the gist, anyhow. How the law would be enforced, worded, made loophole proof, and whether it’s a straight tariff or a licensing fee per unit sold – I’d leave that to the conscientious (hopefully) lawyers.

This might also force a lot of light into the shadowlands of environmental mismanagement that is long overdue.

[sigh] That’s my little thought about writing some wrongs out there. What do you think?

Is there a (conscientious) lawyer in the house?


The Phelsuma gecko used in Geico insurance commercials is a bit removed from the real animal, unless there are bipedal examples of the species that speak with an Australian accent. But the company does seem to owe something to the real lizard that inspired the character.


It may be a well intentioned idea but doesn’t seem likely to be accepted anywhere.


How does generating a 3D render of an organism hurt real organisms of the same species?
How would we determine which real species, if any, is depicted in an image/video?
Why should fees be applied to conservation efforts for the species represented, rather than, say, species that need conservation, or something unrelated, like fighting malaria?
Wouldn’t we rather incentivize than de-incentivize public representation of wildlife, especially endangered species?


Don’t forget depictions of water, mountains, clouds, etc. Probably good to include depictions of concepts like time, space, and self-actualization.


That’s not an Australian accent! It’s a Cockney English accent.


Isn’t this vaguely the plot of the bee movie


It puts them out of work. They should unionise.



Wouldn’t we rather incentivize than de-incentivize public representation of wildlife, especially endangered species?

This was exactly what came to my mind when I first read this post. Most large companies operate with one goal: to maximize profit as much as possible. Instead of paying money to support a species in exchange for using its likeness, a corporation would be far more likely to choose a different mascot altogether as this would be more profitable and in line with their objective. While I can appreciate the intent of this idea in theory, I believe it would not have a positive effect in practice, unfortunately.


There was a discussion of this about ten years ago, in relation to films and tv programmes - not exactly the same as the question you asked, but similar. The original article is paywalled, but some of the follow-up seems to be open access:

Should the wildlife media pay for conservation?

Another more recent example was that the mascot for Brazil 2014 was a threatened species, the Three-banded Armadillo. It would seem really obvious for FIFA to put some money towards its conservation, but apparently it did not do so.


Rather than making it a legal requirement, there’s nothing to stop people from writing to a business and suggesting politely that as they are benefiting from the creature they would be seen in a good light if they did something in return, for it, or its environment. Conservation of habitat is probably the best aim as it also helps many organisms which aren’t as cute and cuddly as the ones used as mascots. Many organisms may be just as threatened, and even more useful to the environment but if they’re “ugly”, or too small to notice, or underground, they won’t inspire any conservation efforts.


This seems like a law that would be written to be gotten around or the oversight would be bananas.

Don’t want to fork over money for using a species’ likeness? Cool just make it something that looks like a real species but isn’t. Every intentional depiction of gulls in media, for example.

This would also disincentivize interesting use of animals in media. For example, Our Flag Means Death stars Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby, both of whom hail from Aotearoa (the former being Maori) and features two gulls in the show. However, given the Waititi’s ties to Aotearoa and despite the show being set in the Caribbean(?) the gulls used are tarāpunga (Red-billed Gull in English) which are nearly-completely endemic to Aotearoa. As a larophile, that was really cool to see.

Another example- the new season (half-season?) of Stranger Things really upped their bird call game. Like a lot. They had diversity, habitat- and region-appropriate bird calls, etc. But does that fall under a commercial depiction of a species? Do we have to go back to using generic bird soundscapes with Common Loons calling in lakeless areas and Pacific Chorus Frog calls for every frog call?

You start to make it mandatory for commercial uses of species to pay extra to use those things and you might start to see those things replaced with generic blah CGI gulls.

I mean obviously my comment is biased by being from the US. Maybe simple entertainment isn’t a fair use for organismal likeness. However, I think that your proposition would be very difficult to enforce (does it extend to trees and plants in the background of things?) and probably make media less engaging for those of us that care about the natural world. Finally, would this actually make a difference? Or would it be a better use of legislative bodies to more actively conserve habitat, habitat connectivity, and pump the brakes on climate change?


It’d be nicer if they started to use less plastic, that actually would help, but if we talk about paying back, then using cats and dogs as mascots could lead to paying local shelters, they do need money and it’d be easier to do for companies as helping pets is marketable and will get them more money.


i dont see how CGI would be exploitation. if they were using a real live animal maybe. if it was a real live animal i think there would be a better foundation for this proposition because of the potential stress on the individual and impact on the population

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besides, people are more likely to care about things they feel like they have some connection to so exposure to various species through advertisement and other media i think is a positive.

taking this as an example, lets say as a hypothetical situation some developer planned to build over some critical remaining habitat for them that would obliterate their population. would the average person who isnt well educated or care too strongly for conservation be more moved by hearing “developers threaten vital phelsuma gecko habitat” or “developers threaten vital home for the geico geckos”?

like it or not, im pretty sure more people will connect with the second one because it appeals not exclusively to people like us who are already invested, but also those who arent by making it feel more connected to their lives than some random reptile they dont know

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Maybe, maybe not. The emu in the Liberty Mutual commercials is portrayed in an anthropomorphized manner. This can create the wrong impression for somre TV audiences. As touched upon in the thread about pet parrots, one of the reasons people try to make pets out of wild animals is because they are unaware of the creatures’ behavioral needs which cannot be met in a human household. When your “pet” capybara creates a mud wallow in your backyard, and repeatedly goes from there to your swimming pool and back – that probably wasn’t how you imagined it would be. When your cockatoo or macaw turns your matched furniture into matched matchsticks – that probably wasn’t in your intended script either. Portraying wildlife doing human-like things like working out at the gym doesn’t really help real wildlife.


Love your thoughts! They definitely should be made to put back.

I’m all for tasking those utilizing nature, its materials, properties and faculties in an exploitative manner, liable for recompense and putting back into programmes that aim to restore what they have depleted

But sadly, I fail to see how that applies here? If it were a case of a species suffering a reputational (and thus existential) damage from a certain kind of portrayal in the media, then this should definitely apply

But as long as folks are just using animals as mascots to further but not implicate themselves in the business agenda, then whats the harm really?

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