When corporate sponsorship goes too far, a comparison of two aquariums

Two women standing by a boardwalk that has the Lowes Home Improvement logo carved into it.
“This vacation sponsored by Lowes” by Lindsey Turner via Flickr Creative Commons.


I’m a huge fan of aquariums, so it’s not surprising that, on a recent trip to Atlanta, I made a special visit to the Georgia Aquarium. I’d heard about it for years and those that had been to the Georgia Aquarium and my personal favorite, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, said that Georgia Aquarium was the better of the two. Unfortunately, I have to say I disagree.

Shedd Aquarium felt like an aquarium, Georgia Aquarium felt like a series of advertisements with some animals mixed in. Each exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium was sponsored by some major organization. That’s not necessarily new, but their logos were everywhere, including a commercial before the 4D movie experience. Coupled with a lack of information at the exhibits about serious issues affecting our bodies of water, the Georgia Aquarium felt more like an amusement park than a conservation organization.

As an example, check out the two websites below, for similar exhibits, at the two aquariums:

I’ve mentioned the dangers of taking corporate sponsorship too far in the past (Breast Cancer sponsorship, is it really a good thing?). Budgets are tight and corporate money goes a long way, but we’ve got to be very diligent to ensure that any type of sponsorship doesn’t harm our core mission.

Household income is not a good measurement of discretionary income

dollar bills with scrabble pieces on top that spell "spend"
Photo from Flickr: 401 (K) 2013

This month, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American housing survey will begin. As part of this survey, census workers will be collecting demographic data including household income.

Household income is a staple in marketing for selecting areas where people are most likely to purchase products or services as well as other uses. For example, if you own a luxury car dealership, you probably want your dealership located in or near an area with a high household income.

Although household income is a quick way to assess an area, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Consumer discretionary income can vary significantly based on a wide variety of factors that are unmeasured by the simple household income measurement.

Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Number of people in the household factors greatly in the amount of discretionary income

Household 1 has a household income of $75,000. The house consists of a husband and a wife, two children, and a live-in mother-in-law.

Household 2 also has a household income of $75,000. The house consists of a single female with no dependents.

Example 2: Other monetary factors such as debt play a huge role

Household 1 has a household income of $75,000 and consists of a young married couple. They have no debt.

Household 2 also has a household income of $75,000 and consists of a married couple. One attended a private college and now has student loans plus other debts (car, credit card, etc.) totaling $150,000.

Example 3: Cost of living is a major factor

Household 1 has a household income of $75,000 and consists of a retired couple. They live in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Household 2 also has a household income of $75,000 and consists of a retired couple. They live in Chicago, IL.

According to CNN’s cost of living calculator, the equivalent of $75,000 in Kalamazoo is $98,539 in Chicago.

In each of the examples above, do we really expect household 1 and household 2 to have the same amount of discretionary income available? It just isn’t the reality. There are additional factors that, coupled with household income, can give us a clearer picture. But then, of course, there are behavioral factors to consider. My point is, household income is a start, but the only way to get a true picture of discretionary income is in-depth market research.