Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fracking: Vat jou goed en pak, vrak

Imagine: You’re a small activist group, just a few months old and relatively unknown. You’re up against a multinational oil company with limitless resources and a formidable spin machine. What to do? Turn to a diverse, irreverent group of advertising students switched on to the power of social media for advice, of course.

Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) did just this as one aspect of the fight against Shell’s plans to use hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ to uncover natural gas deposits in the pristine Karoo. Post-graduate students at Cape Town’s Red&Yellow School of Logic & Magic were given a clear brief: create awareness of the threat, build support for and knowledge of the TKAG as a middle of the road, factual, socially responsible activist organisation and get the public involved – fast, with a minimal budget.

An additional incentive was that musician David Kramer, himself a vocal opponent of fracking, had said he might end up singing any viable jingles or ditties the students produced. The students had three weeks to come up with the goods, and this week presented a variety of campaigns to TKAG national co-ordinator and spokesperson Jonathan Deal and its legal advisor, energy sector attorney Dr Luke Havemann.

Not in my Country
Clad in customised T-shirts sporting slogans such as ‘Frack is a dirty word with even dirtier consequences’ and ‘I [heart] Karoo’, the students concentrated on less traditional media to promote awareness, from Do It Yourself stickers that could be downloaded and printed out, to unusual outdoor marketing techniques that would fire up curiosity and send the public to the web for more information.

Viral marketing techniques and ‘vigilante advertising’ that would help ‘initiate a groundswell of an almost revolutionary nature’ against Shell and allow the public to help spread the word via Facebook and Twitter were also a strong feature.

Some of the most innovative ideas included sheepskin mirror socks tagged with the slogan ‘It’s our Karoo, Let’s Treasure it’ as well as an idea to use white-washed rocks on Karoo hillsides along the N1 to spell out anti-fracking slogans such as ‘Not in my Karoo’ (a play on the squeamish ‘Not in my backyard’).

A logo of a cartoon sheep wearing a gas mask was the unifying factor of another presentation; one out-there method suggested to raise awareness included putting charcoal in public loos (an accompanying sticker or poster would note that pollution caused by fracking could not be ‘flushed away’.)

One team suggested getting a supermarket and clothing store well-known for its ‘green’ stance on board – and suggested that they use Karoo locals rather than the usual models in their advertising campaigns along with pithy comments made by such locals such as, ‘Dis maar net bliksems mooi’. This would be a way of honouring a culture under threat (a documentary that would ask locals how they would ‘say goodbye to the land they knew and loved’ was also suggested).

Another proposal included a model of a black sheep that would travel the country on the back of a bakkie – and stop at places where supporters could write messages of support on it in white marker pen, thus cleansing it.

Ideas to be unleashed
‘The campaigns were magnificent,’ Deal said later. ‘I believe that … we will end up with a campaign that incorporates elements from a number of the groups. We’re going to make use of this, there’s no doubt it will be pivotal in the opposition to fracking.’

Havermann agreed the ideas were strong. ‘[The message] is grassroots, it’s young, it’s passionate, it’s all the things you want it to be… it just needs to be unleashed.’ He felt elements could be used in the international fight against fracking, and would be ‘lapped up’ in countries like the UK.

John Cooney, Red & Yellow MD, noted that the strength of viral and digital marketing was that it is so believable. ‘It’s not, with respect, the chairman of Shell reading a beautifully prepared statement which the spin doctors have been working on… these young people are talking about what they really believe in. It’s from the heart, it’s not sanitised. It adds credibility to the message. And it’s the least expensive.’ By involving the public, ‘people themselves can become ambassadors for the cause and spread things very quickly.’

So pak, vrak
The TKAG has some breathing space now that government has placed a moratorium on fracking to give a task team time to investigate the issues. But don’t be surprised if, in the months to come, you switch on the radio to hear David Kramer crooning English and Afrikaans lyrics along the lines of: ‘Vat jou goed en pak, vrak /Jou geldjies in jou sak, vrak /ons almal staan nou saam teen jou / jou skelm ou /so pak, vrak.’

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1 comment:

  1. Whitewash the rocks in the Karoo? With paint made from fossil fuel? As a protest against fracking?

    We can do better than that!