Express Your Inner Animal Campaign,
2019 Zoo Express Bus

Case Study, Community Outreach & Involvement, Design, Marketing, Web

APTA Adwheel Award Winner

First Place in the Best Marketing Communications to Increase Ridership or Sales, Shoestring Tactic Category

Target Audience

  • Families planning trips to the Smithsonian National Zoo.
  • Residents, businesses, and employees in the Woodley Park area of Washington, DC – the neighborhood where the National Zoo is located.

We targeted these groups as they would be primary users of the new shuttle we were launching. It was a FREE summer bus service intended to fill the ½ mile transportation void between the Metro and the northwestern part of Connecticut Avenue, a vibrant activity center in DC, where the National Zoo and other retail destinations are located.


Due to the success of a 2018 pilot for a shuttle between the National Zoo and the nearest Metro station, DDOT and The Zoo agreed to establish a FREE seasonal shuttle service, operating that same route during the high-peak summer months of 2019. The new “Zoo Express Bus” operated May 4 – September 30, seven days a week from 6am – 8pm. As this was a brand-new service, we needed to build awareness and recruit ridership, all with a limited budget.


Two key strategies helped us build awareness and ridership for the Zoo Express Bus at low costs:

  • Creative ads on owned channels
  • B2B tactics for nearby businesses to promote the new bus line for us.

The Campaign

We developed a vibrant ad campaign with fun images of animals and people. Each ad promoted key selling points like free rides, or late service for after work. The ads were placed in our buses, bus screens, and bus shelters. We also used social media and our website.
We created b2b tool kits and sent them to local BIDS and other nearby businesses asking them to promote it as a new way to access their company. We sent engaging e-mails to all Zoo employees and our marketing lists. Our street team engaged riders with prizes and route info at the Metro entrance and the Zoo.


The Zoo Express Bus serviced 132K riders during its five-month run. Averaging 26K riders per month, it exceeded expectations and helped improve accessibility to the National Zoo and surrounding area. It also improved traffic/parking congestion and road safety.

We engaged with more than 500 families during our street-team outreach, our email open-rates exceeded the 25% industry average, and we saw a 20% boost year-over-year in our social media engagement during the summer. After such a successful run, the Zoo Express Bus will make a return for Summer 2020.

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Boost in Social Media Engagement


Families Engaged

About Our Award

The Express Your Inner Animal marketing campaign was submitted to the APTA Awards as an example of creative advertising to promote transportation options with powerful impact to our neighborhoods. It was recognized because of its wild success (pun intended!) Additionally, the quality and creativity of the visuals we designed deserve recognition as they stand out from typical transportation advertising. The holistic approach we took including in-person activations, digital, print, and out-of-home advertisements, and business-to-business marketing strategies make this campaign an exemplary effort to boost ridership of public transportation in our Nation’s capital.

Our in-house design team created a quirky ad series featuring funny photos of humans and zoo animals showing similar expressions. They were eye-catching with fun headlines to match. Money spent was for stock images.


Campaign Execution

All Circulator routes have an assigned color and route icon for our maps and signs. So, we created a special route icon for the Zoo Express Bus and had it printed on new flags to mark the bus stops

Email Blast Series

We sent emails tailored to specific audiences:

  • Zoo employees – promoting the shuttle for their commute
  • BIDS and local businesses – Asking them to share it with their customers as a new transportation option to get to their locations
  • Current subscribers – promoting the new route and all its features

Street Team Activations/Outreach

  • Two weekends
  • Gave animal masks to children
  • Gave info on route
  • Engaged with more than 100 families.