Seeing panda: The verbal and visual language of the WWF brand

The importance of a strong, relevant and unique brand identity that speaks to a specific target market is pivotal to the success of any business, particularly in today’s competitive and often cluttered digital space of social media, online advertising and e-marketing. According to Klopper and North (2011), a brand’s visual and verbal language shows how a brand expresses itself both verbally and visually at every possible brand touch-point. They suggest three distinguishable properties of a brand’s verbal and visual language that ensure clear and coherent brand behaviour:  tone of voice, brand symbols and brand story.

Effective brand management is, however, not only confined to the profit-making sector. Many non-profit organisations have meticulously developed their brand identity over the years and those that do it well have remained relevant and sustained their existence. Charities like Greenpeace, Oxfam and, of course, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) spring to mind when thinking of big brand charities, many of whom are often more trusted as a brand than the most well-known for-profit brands (SSIR, 2012). In the following paragraphs I will look at WWF’s visual and verbal language of its brand identity.

WWF The Panda made me do it


WWF was established in 1961 and its mission is to “stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature” (WWF Brand Book, 2013).

1. Tone of voice

WWF’s tone of voice can be described as respectful, inspiring, motivational and humane but also sobering  and to-the-point, particularly through its marketing campaigns (see 50 Creative WWF Campaigns That Make You Think Twice). This tone fits in well with it organisation’s values which are that they are knowledgeable, optimistic, determined and engaging – summarised through the K-O-D-E acronym used within the organisation (WWF Brand Book, 2013).

2. WWF’s brand symbols

WWF’s iconic black and white panda logo was inspired by a giant panda called Chi-Chi who had arrived at the London Zoo in 1961 – the same year the organisation was established. One of WWF’s founders and the person to draw the first WWF logo, Sir Peter Scott, said they chose a panda because they wanted an animal that was beautiful, endangered and loved by people across the world for its appealing qualities. As such, the logo evokes feelings of vulnerability, nurturing, hope and the need to protect. Interestingly, they also wanted an animal that would visually have an impact black and white colour in order to save money on printing costs. The iconic logo has become a universal symbol for the conservation movement (Logo Design Love, 2017).

Historical development of WWF’s logo

Historical development of WWF’s logo (Source:

The tagline of the logo is often accompanied by the well-known abbreviation for the organisation – WWF (with its custom font type) and the slogan: ‘for a living planet’. WWF’s iconic marketing campaigns often use augmented, surrealist imagery of real-life scenes in the wild or in society to stir an emotive reaction within its audience.

3. Brand story

As with many charitable organisations, WWF has a very strong brand story which is central to its philanthropic raison d’être. The organisation was started in 1961 out of an international need to garner substantial financial support for conservation projects around the world. Today, the WWF is the world’s largest independent conservation organisation with more than five million supporters, working in more than 90 countries, supporting approximately 1300 conservation and environmental projects (WWF Brand Book, 2013).

The tone of voice, symbols and story of WWF’s brand are purposefully aligned to position the brand in such a way that the organisation can attain its overall mission of building a future in which people live in harmony with nature. Together with WWF’s other brand identity elements, these components help to solicit support (whether financial, operational, legislative or other) from members of the public, businesses, government and other stakeholders. However, it also helps to develop internal cohesion among diverse internal constituencies within the organisation and to ensure that the brand’s identity is correctly portrayed through various organisational touchpoints (e.g. built environment, signage, emails and staff engagement) (Fabrikbrands, 2017).

The chief operating officer of WWF in the Unites States, Marcia Marsh, said this about WWF’s brand, “Our brand is the single greatest asset that our network has, and it’s what keeps everyone together.” (SSIR, 2012).

Finally, through effective brand management, many non-profit brands are going beyond using their brand as a fundraising tool to one that drives long-term social goals while strengthening organisational cohesion (SSIR, 2012).

As such, WWF’s clear, coherent and consistent brand behaviour through its visual and verbal language has ensured that it remains one of the most recognisable non-profit, environmental brands in the world with uniquely differentiated brand identity.


By Francois Louw

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