Case Study: Mission Aquarius

how a barrage of original, real-time programming saved an undersea research station


The story.

View how an intensive, one-week campaign turned an unknown undersea lab into a social media sensation.

The need.

In 2012, the world’s only undersea research station, the Aquarius Reef Base, lost its federal funding and was scheduled for closure, unless new funding could be secured.

Located next to a living coral reef 3.5 miles offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarius is the only operating undersea laboratory of its kind. Aquarius allows scientists to live and work 60 feet underwater for up to two-weeks, performing research that would be impossible anywhere else on Earth. It has supported 114 missions since 1993 and is the scene of a number of critical scientific discoveries. From understanding the disappearance of coral reefs, to providing research on sea sponges, the source of multiple cancer drugs, to training NASA astronauts for space, Aquarius is one of the planet’s most important brain trusts.

The story of Aquarius needed to be shared with a mass audience—fast—so this national treasure could be saved.

The solution.

MacGillivray Freeman knew that amazing undersea footage, combined with an intensive media strategy, could save Aquarius. As a part of our One World One Ocean initiative, Mission Aquarius, a 6-day underwater expedition and media campaign, was born. The mission: Make Aquarius famous in the one week.

Working around the clock, we created an arsenal of original media that showcased Aquarius in a whole new way. Mission Aquarius featured a full week of real-time programming direct from the undersea habitat, chronicling a 6-day underwater expedition led by ocean research pioneer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Audiences could dive into original daily content, including a special feed that gave behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to live underwater in the Aquarius lab, live interviews, short videos, blog posts and slideshows. Using the latest digital tools, we brought the aquanauts into classrooms, living rooms, onto buses and trains, engaging and inspiring millions.

Our goal was to create worldwide buzz around the value of undersea exploration and the need for increased ocean exploration and conservation, spurring online donations to save Aquarius.

The results.

In just one week, our Mission Aquarius campaign garnered an impressive amount of action.

300 unique news stories

500 million media impressions

global conversations across social media

hundreds of grass roots petitions and donations

In January 2013, Florida International University announced it would take over the operations of Aquarius. Mission accomplished.