It is news to nobody that we are a world undergoing "ad creep," an invasive omnipresence of advertising. Now, ads are more than just "on" our lives but make up "how" we live. With apologies to the Tracy Awards and Kraft's "Cheddar Explosion" program for the demolition of Texas Stadium, the ultimate in ad creep may be a small, cheap booze campaign going on right now in South Dakota.
Windsor Canadian, an unremarkable brand of whiskey, has, for years now, sponsored a remarkable ad campaign, "After the Hunt." Simple as ad campaigns go, the After the Hunt promotion tags several hundred pheasants with Windsor Canadian "After the Hunt" markers and releases them into the wild. Hunters that "bag a banded bird and return the tag will be entered into a drawing to win one of five top prizes." Of course, "bag" is a more delightful way to say "kill" and who knows how to make terrible things sound more delightful than ad copywriters? And don't worry if your dead animal is not a winner of a top prize, "you will still receive a WindsorÂ® Canadian travel mug and WindsorÂ® Canadian Hat!"
Now, there are a number of obvious concerns about such a campaign. Is it even legal? And: what does Windsor Canadian pay for the privilege of advertising on land maintained by taxpayers? Since the tagged birds are released on public lands overseen by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Park I got in touch with them.
Communications & Outreach Specialist Chris Hull told me the department was aware of the program but that it did not have any formal agreement.
"In fact," he said, "we have kind of discouraged the practice.Â We don't have any formal rules saying it can't be done either.Â From my understanding, we told the Windsor folks, and others who want to release birds, that we would rather they not release them directly on to our GPA'sÂ [Game Production Areas].Â They get around it by releasing them in the roads next to the GPA's."
The Hunt's website has a photo gallery of the "Pheasant Release 2009" that includes the shot above, of a Windsor rep and a public lands sign.
The advertisers pay no fee to the state, though they do make a $1,200 donation to the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Since hundreds of these birds are tagged with metal bands and not all of them are "bagged" for great prizes, and because they are farm-raised and likely totally hopeless in real wilderness, isn't there a distinct risk of some predator ending up with a bit of sharp metal in its squishy-soft gastrointestinal tract? "I guess it would potentially be of some concern," Hull said.
I wanted to add PETA's input [Ed. Note: OMG, WHY?] but was ignored repeatedly by the organization's press office. Despite not responding to my requests for comment on this animal-harming advertising program, the group did immediately add me to their fund-raising spam email list.
Rod Rehfeldt is a sales representative for Republic National Distributing Company, the wine and spirits wholesaler that handles the Windsor Canadian brand in the region. Rehfeldt said that the potential concern that the tags could harm a wild predator never crossed the promoter's mind. He attempted to mitigate the concern by explaining that federal wildlife organizations tag thousands of migratory birds and certainly some of them must get eaten. Right? Right?
But Rehfeldt made a very good point: "Many people just cannot afford to pheasant hunt anymore. Our program gives them a chance to get a bird without paying the high fees of private reserves." Public relations spin? Yes. True? Absolutely. Who gives a spit about a WindsorÂ® Canadian travel mug; the real prize is the bird itself.
Hunting is ever more expensive. Not only have license and ammunition costs jumped in the last decade (even in New York), there are also schemes such as the Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program. For instance, farmers enrolled in CRP-MAP receive $4 or so an acre for allowing public access for hunting and trapping. In 2005, 5 million acres in the Dakotas alone were enrolled.
But with crop and land prices so high, there's less incentive to be enrolled in any CRP programs, leaving less habitat for wildlife. Around 72,000 acres of private land was recently removed from the CRP in Minnesota. With more public hunting land lost, private reserves, such as for pheasant hunting, often charge $100 or more for access to well-stocked fields.
As ethically objectionable as it is to have an advertising campaign that takes as its core the killing of a living thing, the reality is that such a program benefits the hunters who have the least. And while those who object outright to hunting itself might find this trade-off acceptable, they might consider that this does not eliminate hunting: it makes hunting increasingly only for the well-off-just one more activity in which those with the money get to take part and about which everyone else just gets to reminisce.
The Way We Live Nowâ„¢ is sponsored. Everything-from athletic events to the simple act of pissing in a urinal, to hunting, one of the few pastimes we share with our ancestors-are retailed to us by corporations. Many "Americans" object to what they perceive as a nation becoming a nanny state, a centralized government that hands down scraps to the less fortunate, with which we should fashion some kind of endurable existence-but what is the difference between Washington D.C. and Madison Avenue allowing us our welfare pittance? One price is a tax bump; the other is dignity. A nation whose road and fire safety is courtesy of finger-lickin' good chicken.