Advertising Activism: Steve Irwin, Sea Shepherds and Pixels

On Sunday the Steve Irwin set sail from Circular Quay, the Sea Shepherd’s skull and cross bones drawing the attention of tourists, hippies, grey nomads and yuppies alike. And it got me thinking about advertising activism, and how you successfully get public engagement on a Sunday.

Circular Quay is such a high visibility space, on a daily basis 36,000 visitors* pass through the quay itself with hundreds more looking on from the surrounding restaurants. In a space like this, social activism gets exposure to audiences that may never otherwise seek out information on the causes of the Sea Shepherd. While docking the Steve Irwin in the most famous international port of Australia certainly makes a visual splash, does it make the cause more accessible?

Our father’s day party was successfully drawn down from Cafe Sydney, to check out what was going on. A ship adorned with a giant skull and crossbones facing the Quay was enough to get me trotting down there, and had the double strength of being a calling card for both the uninitiated curious and the informed environmentalists.

A few grey nomads take it in…

Once down there, higher levels of ‘comfortable’ involvement were impressively organised through various information points. The Steve Irwin’s crew were roaming the Quay, busy being approachable and chatting to anyone who wanted to say hello ( of which there were a fair few) and an info stand was selling what I think would be best described as jolly roger “eco-warrior memorabilia”. Pull up banners gave websites and brief cause-summaries. The Steve Irwin itself was strewn with a giant “save the Kimberly whales” sign. You could figure out what was going on just by looking at the banners, deeper involvement was facilitated by having the informed people clothed in Sea Shepard uniforms, the only thing that was missing were the “ask me” jackets.

However, for some, approaching these information points looked too intimidating. You could see groups of spectators trying to figure out what was going on, without wanting to get too close, even to ‘sanitised’ activism of the skull and cross bones beach towels or photos albums of ships ramming each other, in safe 2D format. If the visual presence of the ship in a famous port is one layer and the in situ access points of information a second layer there is also a third pivotal point of ‘activist advertising’ that was taking place: the mobile web.

For those who were more comfortable engaging with the spectacle from a distance, the mobile web represented a strong information touch point.  My partner, for one, was a little bit put off by all the Jolly Rogers so seconded himself beneath one of the Moreton May Figs and did the old google-wiki trick.  From the looks of it, he wasn’t the only one preferring this form of interaction.  Beyond this, you can imagine that many people up in the Australian Hotel (which has full-frontal views of the harbour)  were doing the same, as would have some of our less-adventurous pals in Cruise bar.  It would be interesting to see if the sea shepherd’s site’s traffic went up significantly during this period.

However, it looks like Sea Shepherd could definitely do with tapping into the chronic tweeters and Facebookers, Topsy doesn’t show a huge uptake on activity that could be attributed to this event.  While there was a related key word  peak for Sunday  the number of social mentions that the event received was relatively few – I’d say about six tweets happended becasue of the event**. There are definitely some low-cost initiatives that the group could enact for attracting the interest of wider social networks of those who were physically present at the event.  A few visible hashtags on banners and calls to share this event via social media would have been a good visibility booster for these guys.  And as Sklar points out: “Social media activism is a gateway drug to real activism”***

And this is what can close the loop on Sunday Activism.  Mobile web, and all the portals of interaction that it opens up, are key drivers to engage those who are not yet brave enough to engage in person.  If you’re looking at driving an awareness campaign for an activist cause, combining high physical visibility (Jolly Rogers, Circular Quay and on-the-ground information points) with high digital visibility (Get #conversations started, encourage the sharing and social media activism that directly relates to the event), you may just have the secret sauce.

The Steve Irwin sets sail



**relevant data shown as Sept 2nd due to time difference

***Mediatwits #44: Social Media’s Role in Activism, Trayvon Martin; Pinterest’s Legal Drama


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