The resilience of the magazine is closely aligned with the mission of the National Geographic Society, one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. While the magazine is arguably the Society’s most iconic property the organization itself has been a major force in discovery, exploration, and education. In fact, since 1888, the Society has funded more than 9,400 expeditions globally.
Ten years into its existence, the National Geographic Society appointed Alexander Graham Bell (yes, that Bell) as president. But Bell is just one of the numerous notable names associated with the Society. It has supported such scientific celebrities as Robert E. Peary and Matthew A. Henson, the first men to reach the North Pole in 1909; Hiram Bingham, who excavated Machu Picchu from 1912 to 1915; Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees in Tanzania; Dian Fossey, who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda; and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, whose many articles about the sea appeared in the magazine.
The Society has such prominence that its flag was carried by John Glenn on the first U.S. orbital space flight in 1962 and taken to the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. With a desire to inspire people to care about the planet, National Geographic plays by its own rules: In 2003, its Washington, D.C. headquarters was the first office building complex in the U.S. to be certified by the U.S. Building Council LEED for Existing Building program.
Remarkably, today the National Geographic brand has become known as much for its various media properties as its magazine: the National Geographic Channel on cable television, other magazines, books, films, digital media (including an incredibly robust website), music, and even retail stores.
National Geographic, it seems, has a way of popularizing science and combining it with contemporary and even edgy content. The National Geographic Channel is a prime example. The cable television channel, a joint venture with News Corp., features what one might expect from National Geographic, with shows like “Great Migrations: Need to Breed” and “Sunken Treasures of the Nile.” But it is also the home of the very popular “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan,” and some series that break the mold, such as “Alaska State Troopers,” “Border Wars,” “Locked Up Abroad,” and “Taboo.”
National Geographic Channel expects to be in 75 million homes by this fall, according to MediaDaily News. It will launch 13 new series and is encouraging product placement deals with advertisers, similar to the Subaru placement on Dog Whisperer.
Dog Whisperer, in fact, will show up in April on a new network that Nat Geo spun off last year called Nat Geo WILD. Nat Geo WILD is designed to cover animal life and have more of a “family focus” than Nat Geo, which has increasingly moved towards adult content.
National Geographic has a nose for news, too. During just the first week of March 2011, for example, the organization had made national news in the U.S. with these stories:
On the educational side, National Geographic has a whole program targeting children, which includes National Geographic KIDS magazine, a slew of online games and online videos, an entire website devoted to “little kids,” and “Animal Jam,” an online virtual playground “for children who love animals and the outdoors.”
National Geographic’s “Seven Billion” project, a search to find the “most typical human face,” analyzed 7,000 human figures to reveal the face: that of a 28-year old Han Chinese male.
- National Geographic attached 300 giant helium balloons to a real house and made it fly, much as a house was shown flying in the hit movie, UP. The publicity stunt was in support of the National Geographic Channel’s new show, “How Hard Can it Be?”
- National Geographic sponsored an online contest for American school children called “Find Your Footprint” in a tie-in with Procter & Gamble’s “Future Friendly,” a multi-brand conservation program. Students submitted ideas for ways their classrooms could save energy, save water, and reduce waste. The winning classroom will receive five interactive whiteboards for the school.
In the travel market, National Geographic publishes National Geographic Traveler, the world’s most widely read travel magazine, eight times a year. As the magazine states, “it championed sustainable travel before it was cool.”
National Geographic has also pioneered a concept it calls “geotourism,” which it says is “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographics character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism – that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations – while allowing for ways to protect a place’s character.”
As part of its Center for Sustainable Destinations, National Geographic is producing Geotourism "MapGuides" – digital mapping combined with interactive features for select locations. MapGuide projects have been completed or are ongoing in Appalachia, Baja California, California’s Redwood Coast, Central Cascades, Crown of the Continent (Alberta, British Columbia, Montana), Greater Yellowstone, Guatemala, Montreal, Peru, the Sierra Nevada, the Sonora Desert (Arizona Sonora) and Vermont.
Apparently, the 123-year old National Geographic brand has no problem remaining relevant.