People 'n' Issues

The fake that could save the real thing

October 9th, 2015
A local communications agency was given the task of creating awareness of the plight of Africa’s vultures for International Vulture Awareness Day. With no budget, and only one photograph at their disposal, they knew their approach would have to be bold and so the Tuluver was created.

In the lead up to International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September, one of South Africa’s top conservation NGOs, BirdLife South Africa made an astonishing announcement. BirdLife South Africa announced a recently discovered, rare and exceptionally beautiful species of scavenging bird, and offered a stunning visual of the enchanting ‘Tuluver’.

With the headline ‘New Species Discovered in South Africa’ plastered across lamp posts, radio and news media; it didn’t take long for a social media storm to brew.  While thousands excitedly ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ the news of the gorgeous Tuluver, others questioned its authenticity.

On 2 September, an online video artfully revealed that the ‘Tuluver’ was, in fact, a photoshopped image of the increasingly threatened Lappet-faced Vulture, the largest vulture in Africa.  While it might lack the eye-catching beauty of a Tuluver, the Lappet-faced Vulture is undeniably a bird that, despite its great ecological importance, has earned an unfair reputation and its plight has gone unnoticed.

According to BirdLife South Africa CEO, Mark D. Anderson, “The increased absence of vultures in some parts of the world, such as South Asia, has already led to an increase in feral dogs and, in turn, rabies – at huge cost to human health.”

And yet for years, its population has been in serious decline due to poisoning, electrocution on powerlines, persecution and habitat loss while very few people have been paying attention.  The Tuluver campaign message: ‘If we can get this passionate about discovering a new species, why can’t we get as passionate about losing one?’ certainly clanged the bells across social media around the world.

Through innovative disruption, BirdLife South Africa has succeeded in getting the message across – no matter what they look like, the continued existence of vultures warrants our care and keen attention.

The campaign received an overwhelmingly positive response. The video has so far garnered over 18 000 views and 81 million earned media impressions, with many people expressing that they had no idea vultures were even in trouble.

“We are ecstatic with the results of our Tuluver campaign, and sincerely hope that people are now more aware of the plight faced by vultures, they will view them in a different light and make more of an effort to help conserve them,” said Mark D. Anderson.

Better yet, among others, previous skeptics of the campaign recanted and praised BirdLife South Africa on what has been their biggest awareness and promotional campaign yet.

The innovative campaign was developed for BirdLife South Africa by Utopia, an up-and-coming communications agency based in Cape Town. Utopia and BirdLife South Africa have been working together on a pro bono basis for nearly five years, with many successes to date.

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