John Oliver Uses Wide-format to Catapult Bird Into the Spotlight
Last fall, television host and comedian John Oliver set out to win the hearts and minds of the world. But rather than campaigning for a political candidate or a known cause, he chose something a bit more interesting: he campaigned on behalf of the pūteketeke, a bird native to New Zealand, encouraging people to vote in The New Zealand Bird of the Century Contest that Forest & Bird, an independent conservation organization in the country organized.
Since the voting was open both to native New Zealanders as well as international aficionados, Oliver chose a time-honored form of advertising that no one in this industry will be surprised by: wide-format printing. Specifically, he paid for billboards to be put up in several places worldwide, encouraging people to vote for his favorite goofy-looking endangered bird.
And it worked.
The pūteketeke won the contest with an incredible 290,374 votes— blowing the next closest contender, the North Island brown kiwi, out of the water with 12,904 votes.
The pūteketeke wasn’t the only bird to get a billboard, either. A team of equally passionate conservationists at RealNZ took out a billboard in response to Oliver’s campaign, urging people to vote for the kākāriki karaka, of which only an estimated 350 are left in New Zealand today. There are fewer than 1,000 of the pūteketeke.
In the end, in addition to the first billboard in New Zealand, which kicked off the campaign, Oliver and his team also put up billboards in Mumbai, Tokyo, Paris, London, Brazil, and Wisconsin.
And while the campaign was done with quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek in Oliver’s signature style, including promoting it on his show Last Week Tonight on HBO, he also helped to bring a spotlight to endangered birds that, if something isn’t done, will disappear forever, and leave this world a little less quirky and fun for their loss.
The fact that he chose print as his medium of choice, despite his massive following on television and online, says a lot about the staying power of our industry. Print remains an incredibly powerful tool for reaching people of all races, creeds, genders, orientations, planetary affiliations, or galactic loyalties.