International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

The Story of IFAW

IFAW was the first organization to show the world bloody images of the seal slaughter. Thirty years into the campaign, Canada’s seal hunt and industry was an ember. But forest fires start from embers when the wind blows the wrong way and the issue has had its flare-ups in the past.

IFAW needed to make the seal hunt relevant to Canadians who did not identify as animal activists.

We helped grow IFAW’s current relevance by making them the organization leading the effort to expose the political agenda underpinning the Canadian government’s support for the seal hunt. Instead of shuddering, we had new audiences laughing.

Seals & Fish: A Look Below the Surface from Barry Martin on Vimeo.

The Challenge:

IFAW wanted to use their credibility to mobilize new audiences and create the public and political will to end the seal hunt in Canada once and for all. So we needed get the issue noticed by more people.

In its 34 year history, IFAW has been deliberate about taking a professional and scientific approach to their coverage. They used serious leg-work, commissioning scout planes to find the seal hunt and helicopters with camera-men to capture sealers breaking the law in action. They steered clear of sensational tactics to convey what they’d learned. When proponents demonized seals as the cause of waning fisheries, IFAW debunked their claims backed by research from Atlantic fisheries scientists.

The approach garnered IFAW the support of animal activists as early as 1969.

But over the decades, Canadians disengaged from the issue because the images had become familiar. Many didn’t self-identify as animal activists and many who did thought the industry had long since disappeared.

Countries around the world have closed their borders to the import of seal products, leaving the commercial seal industry in deep economic crisis. In 2012 the industry was is such decline that the Canadian government funded a $26 million bailout to stockpile seal pelts in hopes that someone, someday would want to buy them. Fewer and fewer fishermen were participating in a seal hunt because it was bringing increasingly diminished returns.

Through our initial research, we realized that focusing on the seal hunt was a red herring. As it turns out, political support for the seal hunt is ultimately about securing support from Atlantic voters by exploiting their sense of regional identity.

In other words: the seal hunt is about votes, not seals.

We developed a campaign idea that would allow IFAW to redirect their focus from seals to the politicians trying to cloak their self-interest. We believed that if more Canadians understood the economic and political reality of the seal hunt, more MPs and Senators would feel comfortable speaking out against it and creating the necessary political will to end it.


Our Approach: Reason Gone Mad

The fact that Canadian tax dollars are being wasted is not newsworthy. Canadians are jaded when it comes to the behaviour of their politicians. Groucho Marx once said that “humor is reason gone mad.” We like Groucho and think he’s got a point. We developed a campaign concept for IFAW that would let the government’s madness do the talking.

We collaborated with political-satire specialists Wildrun Productions to develop a campaign for the Department of Obsolete Industry–a faux government Department determined to do whatever it takes to keep the seal industry (as well as the cassette tape and pantaloon industries) alive in order to keep political careers afloat.

Push and Pull

The Department of Obsolete Industry made the public aware of the absurd rhetorical tactics politicians use to prop up the seal hunt and their careers while letting politicians know that IFAW was onto them and was making it their business to pull back the curtain on their thinly veiled shell game.

Make it Matter

As George Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on you shame on…shame on you. Fool me…You can’t get fooled again!'” (you get the idea). The public facing campaign was designed to get the attention of politically engaged Canadians and highlight their government’s ridiculous antics. These Canadians do not necessarily self-identify as animal activists, but they don’t like their government treating them like fools.

Public Facing Campaign


For the first time in its history, IFAW had us create a dedicated campaign website. The Department of Obsolete Industry was positioned as a real government Department, headed up by Wayne Mustardson, promoting seal products through incentives like tax credits for homeowners who use seal-based fuel and paint. The site’s content funneled users to sign a petition in support of ending the seal hunt.


Before the start of the annual hunt, The Halifax Chronicle Herald had a feature insert dedicated to the subject of the seal hunt. Hypenotic designed an ad for the insert from the Department of Obsolete Industry inviting Canadians to “Bring Canada Back to the Blubber” and using data to demonstrate the seal hunt’s obsolescence.

Public Relations:

IFAW used the Department of Obsolete Industry as a platform to announce the fact that they would not be returning to the ice to witness the seal hunt in 2013. IFAW wanted to instead shift their focus to the federal government and it’s back-handed efforts to keep the industry on life support. While other animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society went to the ice to photograph the few sealers participating in the hunt, they were accused of “repeating the same story since 1968.”

IFAW had a new story that could garner the support of more Canadians.

Government-Facing Campaign

Banner Ads:

Fake banner ads promoting tax credits and jobs were featured on to draw MPs, Senators and other government stakeholders to the Department of Obsolete Industry’s Website where they could see the public facing campaign and the implications of IFAW’s new focus on their political antics.


Guide Books and Mints:

IFAW gave a “wink” to MPs and Senators letting them know they were out to expose their antics. A mock guidebook was delivered to MPs and Senators to coincide with April Fools’ Day, just prior to the start of seal hunt season.

The little black book instructed MPs and Senators on how to speak and act to obfuscate the seal hunt’s obsolescence. The featured tactics were no joke. They were the very tactics that politicians had been using for years. The books were delivered along with “Governminties,” a tin of mints to help politicians “remove the foul taste of seal hunt rhetoric.”