WWF’s ‘Ivory Lane’ campaign was ruined by Straits Times, which threatened to publish an exposé: Esquire

Photo: Website screengrab
Photo: Website screengrab

We’ll put this out there: we loved the viral stunt pulled off by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore. What better way was there to shock people about the fact that domestic trade of ivory still exists here? The highly-polished branding of a fake ivory online store called Ivory Lane provoked folks into righteous outrage, but there was just something about it all that made us think twice about its authenticity.

We expected all to be revealed on Aug 30, the date when Ivory Lane’s supposed online store was to be “launched”. We were surprised then that the whole thing lasted only six days, with WWF announcing that it was all a ruse to highlight the current shortcomings in local wildlife laws.

But as Esquire Singapore revealed on Wednesday, the campaign died a premature, unjust death thanks to The Straits Times. Was the country’s highest-selling paper possibly bitter they weren’t privy to the inside scoop? Maybe.

WWF Singapore’s extensive campaign

Photo: Facebook; website screengrab
Photo: Facebook; website screengrab

According to Esquire’s account of the controversy, WWF Singapore had actually invited the publication as well as four other fashion writers and editors to a hush-hush event. A video screened to them featured an undercover operation that showed how ivory-based products are perfectly legal to buy and sell here (and it totally is). Ivory Lane was then presented to the media representatives, causing outrage IRL before WWF revealed that they were the ones behind the brand.

“There was a collective ‘Whaaaaaaaaat?!’ across the room; we were duped yet really very impressed by the concept,” wrote Esquire’s Asri Jasman.

The five media representatives then agreed to take part in the conservation organization’s campaign to help raise awareness on the issue, and even signed non-disclosure agreements.

Esquire was supposed to release a fake interview with Ivory Lane’s fictional founder Ivy Chng, while plans to engage with their readers were made. Unfortunately, news of the stunt leaked to The Straits Times, Esquire shared, and WWF’s plan for an extensive, month-long campaign was ruined.

“We found out through our sources that The Straits Times threatened to release a story that WWF Singapore was behind it all along, well ahead of the intended timeline for the full scale of the campaign,” Asri wrote.

“The campaign was due to end on 30 August 2018, with the objective (and activations in between) properly and sufficiently communicated to the public.”

Esquire also pointed out that the untimely reveal caused quite a bit of confusion, which could have been “avoided if the campaign was given time to grow”.

Oh, Straits Times

Photo: Ivory Lane / Facebook
Photo: Ivory Lane / Facebook

On their end, ST’s article on the issue was published mere minutes after WWF Singapore outed themselves on Facebook on Tuesday night — meaning the piece was probably ready to go live some time before that. The story was angled to seem like WWF had revealed their ruse to ST.

“(WWF) told The Straits Times that as the sale of ivory is not completely illegal in Singapore, it set up Ivory Lane ‘to highlight this shortcoming in local wildlife laws’”.

It sounded like an exclusive scoop for ST, but not really. Coconuts Singapore, as well as a number of other publications, received a press release by WWF containing the exact same quotes and information about their campaign.

ST also managed to squeeze in a quote from a “public relations practitioner” that noted that WWF’s shock campaign was a high-rise strategy.

Curiously absent in the ST piece was the fact that WWF actually meant for the Ivory Lane stunt to go on till Aug 30. And it probably would have gotten the ball rolling for healthy public discourse about Singapore’s wildlife laws, if not for a certain national newspaper.

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