Marketing Awards Case Studies WWF

Why Catsnake developed 'adaptive acquisition' to help WWF raise essential funds


By Awards Analyst | writer

December 8, 2021 | 8 min read

Catsnake: The Story Agency won ‘Best Content Marketing Campaign’ at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose, with its work for WWF. Using a novel tagging system, this project used gorgeous imagery and creative data to drive ‘adaptive acquisition’ to attract vital new fundraising leads. Here, the team behind this winning entry explains how it was brought to life.


Catsnake's entirely new system of tagging helped WWF to learn more about its key fundraising demographics

The WWF-UK Legacy team was facing a number of challenges in attracting new leads to its pipeline. The historical approach of using DM and telemarketing to target warm WWF supporters was showing signs of diminishing returns. This approach was also proving problematic as WWF’s wider brand approach to acquisition was focusing on younger audiences who were not suitable for Legacy stewardship or targeting. The Legacy team also had very limited data on the motivations and values of supporters and what drives them to leave a gift in their Will to WWF.

Key campaign objectives were to:

  • Shift away from a focus on warm supporters and acquire new leads from cold audiences.
  • Gather insights on the motivations and values of supporters which could be used to inform future campaigns.


The solution was to use an innovative targeted digital acquisition campaign developed in-house, called ‘Adaptive Acquisition’.

Using vast amounts of carefully crafted content, all tagged to capture key pieces of information, it meant we could reach out to cold audiences at scale. However, our tagging system is where the real magic lies in this new approach. Instead of using the usual tagging systems that are industry standard, ours are created from in-depth research into human behavior, social sciences and the stories we know work for the baby boomer generation.

This complicated tagging system allowed us to track the performance of individual pieces of content and, importantly, which types of ‘story’, ‘emotional framings’, ‘formats’ and ‘approaches’ were most effective with the target audience.

Our aim was to deliver a high number of low-cost legacy leads, produce a wide range of insights into audience habits and motivations, targeting sets and deliver proven future campaign ready content.

This would ultimately equip the WWF Legacy team with all it needed to repeat this process to continuously refresh the leads in its pipeline. Essentially, being able to turn on a tap that guarantees new leads with proven content they know will work.

The project had five key phases.

1. Preparation and Research

We started with a complex asset-mapping and categorization exercise looking through WWF’s extensive library of past content, testimonials, case studies, videos and press releases, spanning back over decades, to identify the stories which WWF can tell.

From this we created a consolidated tagging system of “WWF story types”. Separately, through a series of literature reviews of academic and industry research, we created an additional tagging system of “legacy motivators” (all the factors proven to generate or increase the desire to leave a gift in one’s Will to a charity).

2. Content Creation

Using this categorization and tagging, we developed ‘Story Formulas’ bringing together a ‘motivator’, a ‘story type’ and an ‘emotion’ to build a template from which to create campaign content.

From these templates we created over fifty pieces of content to test in a range of formats, including articles of varying lengths, image-focused posts, testimonials, carousels, infographics and videos, all of which were likely to be powerful in encouraging audiences to leave a legacy gift to WWF.

3. Soft Launch and Systems Testing

Whilst the content was being created, we worked on the audience targeting and the testing plan. We used a non-linear approach to targeting, identifying broader interests among our target audiences, rather than focusing solely on the characteristics of WWF. This enabled us to build targeting sets which reach beyond the traditional charity supporter base, and allows the development of additional, novel segmentation as the campaign progresses.

4. Full Launch and Adaptive Acquisition

The full campaign was launched on Facebook, and utilized three main types of adaptation to maximize results:

  1. Performance based filtering. Based on cost-per-lead (CPL) data, content not reaching our performance average was gradually removed, consistently lowering our campaign CPL.
  1. Content Adaptation. Based on the performance of our content tags, less effective content was redesigned and rewritten, to align better with the aspects of content we knew were effectively engaging audiences.
  1. Targeting-Relative Adaptation. Tailoring content for specific audience targeting groups, again based on content-performance for that targeting set.

The overarching idea here is to keep improving the content based on the live insights we are receiving day-by-day. It allows the content itself to be constantly improving.

5. Insights and Reporting

The project culminated in a detailed, data-led report covering a wide range of insights. This report was designed as a unique toolkit, providing live-tested analysis to better shape future WWF legacy content creation, messaging and targeting.

The report and toolkit included data and analysis on over 100 variables including:

  • Legacy motivators/drivers. Which creative strategies are most effective in producing desired actions in our target audiences (specifically for WWF).
  • Content and narratives. Which stories available to WWF resonated most powerfully with our target audiences (and which approaches should be avoided).
  • Emotions. Which tones and emotional framings proved most effective for each type of content.
  • Delivery. Which formats and placements provide the best value for money.
  • Legacy audience demographics. A wide range of attributes of the audience that engaged with WWF content (including age, gender, region and digital habits, relative to other data points).
  • Targeting. Which targeting groups were most effective at reaching potential legators and which targeting strategies most improved CTR and CPL.


The campaign’s target KPIs were 2,333 new leads, at a cost of £30 per lead. It achieved more than twice as many leads, at less than half the cost.

Given that using digital for acquisition was new to the legacy team at WWF and that targeting cold audiences was not the usual approach for acquisition campaigns, we worked closely to set ambitious, but realistic, targets for leads and cost per lead across the campaign. We also worked collaboratively to decide on which variables to test and what insights it wanted to gather, in order to learn more about its audience.

We more than doubled our leads target, securing 4,846 new legacy leads for the team at an average CPL of just £14.45 (less than half of the £30 target CPL set at the start).

The in-depth insights report which we delivered contains the wealth of insights gathered during the campaign and is currently being used by the team to inform its acquisition strategy moving forward.

The innovative approach and success of the campaign has caught the attention of senior decision makers at WWF and has also been presented to international colleagues at a recent “Festival of Learning” event where teams share successes and approaches that other WWF teams across the globe may wish to replicate or learn from.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.

Marketing Awards Case Studies WWF

Content created with:


Award-winning viral videos and storytelling agency based at Somerset House - on or off screen, we can make your audience care, share and act.

Find out more

More from Marketing

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +