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For the Love of Birds

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There's a fun infographic making its way around Facebook (it originated in Adbusters) that asks viewers to identify the names associated with a handful of common logos, as well as the names of common leaves.

The point is obvious. Because of the billions invested in corporate branding, we all recognize the logos for Apple, McDonald's and Nike. The leaves? Not so much. After all, they don't have much in the way of a marketing budget.

But what if nature did benefit from the same kind of marketing strategies that the big brands enjoy? That's the question that prompted Audubon to launch Birding the Net, which is challenging thousands of people to scour the Internet for birds. It's an innovative social media campaign, the kind usually bankrolled by major corporate brands.

But this time, the brand is birds.

Birds really shouldn't need the help. A love of birds is embedded deep in the American psyche. Our most prominent national symbol is a bird. We name our professional sports teams after them (a shout-out to you, St. Louis Cardinals). And when a major environmental disaster like the BP Oil Spill happens, it's the images of dead birds that spark our outrage.

Despite this, if it were birds on that infographic, I doubt people would do much better than they did with the leaves.

Brands succeed when they are able to form a positive relationship with their audiences. Nike is about action, so people who want to be about action are drawn to the brand. Apple projects cool simplicity.

Birds offer all the attributes of a compelling brand. Haven't we all wondered what it would be like to be a bird? They fly -- they represent beauty, freedom, strength and tenacity.

Moreover, as far as brands go, birds are stunningly enduring. Sure, the new iPhone 4S is cool, but will it still be as awesome in five years? The Bald Eagle certainly will. Same with the Brown Pelican, the Rufous Hummingbird and the hundreds of other North American birds.

This isn't an esoteric notion to the 50 million or so bird enthusiasts in the United States -- people who know birds by name and go out of their way to experience them in nature.

For the other 80 percent of Americans, it might take something remarkable for them to discover their own connection to birds. Something like seeing birds loose all over the Internet, like seeing a Northern Cardinal or a Western Gull flying across their favorite website.

Each bird is like a really good logo -- the kind that connects us to something timeless and larger than any of us can ever be.

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