WildAid, the international wildlife conservation organization that conducted a dramatic rescue last year of the animals at the Baghdad Zoo during the chaos of war, will launch its first U.S.-based public information campaign starring gold medal-winning Olympic athletes including Maurice Greene (100m gold medalist), Allen Johnson (110m Hurdles) Cathy Freeman (400m), Dwight Philips (Athens gold medal long jump), Hailie Gebreselassie (mid distance) and featuring a resonant message: “When we all come together, we can do anything.”

The campaign will break just before the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Athens, on August 12, and be seen across the four major television networks; NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox; as well as several cable outlets including AMC, PAX and National Geographic. The ads will also be seen by over 1 billion people internationally and translated into several languages, including Chinese, Hindi and Thai.

Founded in 1999, WildAid has until now focused its efforts in Asia and Europe. Celebrities, including Jackie Chan, Ralph Fiennes and Minnie Driver, have starred in the ad campaigns overseas. The World Champions for Wild Life ad series marks WildAid’s entrance into the U.S. market. The next series of ads targeted for the fall will feature Angelina Jolie and Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen.

WildAid officials believe that by raising public awareness and working with government agencies in countries where wildlife poaching and killing are rampant, they can end the illegal wildlife trade within an immediate time frame and realistic economic parameters. WildAid disrupts the illegal wildlife trade at every level by targeting illegal traders and smugglers, and drastically lowering consumer demand for endangered species parts and products.

Ad agency J. Walter Thompson, along with AnimalLogics Productions, the special effects production company for The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, has donated its creative services (amounting to approximately $6 million) to produce this series.

“We asked J. Walter Thompson to convey WildAid’s core message – that the illegal wildlife trade is a dire and urgent problem, but one that is solvable in our lifetimes,” said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “We also hoped to express that although some of this goes on beyond our shores, we all need to be part of the solution.” The US, EU and China are the largest markets for illegal wildlife products globally.

J. Walter Thompson has been working with WildAid on international campaigns since 1996. “In these executions, we wanted to inspire and motivate the public,” noted Eric Steinhauser, Executive Vice President and Executive Creative Director for J. Walter Thompson in New York. “By using athletes from around the world, we wanted to show that this was an issue that crosses political and geographic boundaries – and that could motivate people around the globe.” Steinhauser also wanted to ensure that these ads were innovative and memorable. “We wanted to go beyond the old ‘talking head’ public service announcement to create pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in Super Bowl slots,” he remarked.

In order to produce a cutting-edge campaign of the highest quality, Steinhauser’s approach was simple, and incorporated the WildAid campaign message, “When we all come together, we can do anything.” “We called in favors to secure the highest possible production values from some of the best directors, special effects teams, and film crews, who all donated to this cause,” he said. “They came together because they believed in this issue and we hope we have created ads that provoke and inspire the audience.”

The spots: The first PSA series consists of five ads titled World Champions for Wildlife. They feature Olympic champions, including Maurice Greene (“Fastest Man in the World,” 100m gold medalist) and Allen Johnson (100m gold medalist, hurdles). The ads showcase the stars’ athletic prowess, highlighted by unusual special effects. For instance, in the Maurice Greene spot, “Bullet,” Greene races a speeding bullet around a track to his voiceover: “You don’t have to be the fastest man in the world to catch a speeding bullet.” Greene catches the speeding bullet, and it falls to the ground just seconds before it would have hit and killed a beautiful tiger. His voiceover continues, “We can save our endangered animals. When we all come together, we can do anything.”

Hurdle champion Allen Johnson, featured in “Traps,” is seen with fellow Olympians racing and soaring over hurdles. While sailing above each hurdle, a steel animal trap lurches forward, barely missing Johnson’s feet. In the last frame we are left unsure whether they will make the final hurdle. Meanwhile we hear Johnson’s voiceover, “If our athletes faced the kind of hurdles our endangered animals face, the finish line would come all too soon. Help put an end to the illegal wildlife trade, before it’s too late”.

The casting choice was of vital importance. “We used world class athletes to show that you didn’t have to be Superman to accomplish amazing things. If we work together we can achieve great things,” said Steinhauser. The athletes’ grace also grabbed the attention of the producers. “With Allen, we were inspired by the antelope-like grace of the athlete in motion. In the spots, we are asking people to empathize with the man-made dangers they face,” confirmed Steinhauser. Other Olympians featured are: Cathy Freeman (400m), Dwight Philips (long jump), and Hailie Gebrselassie (mid distance).

ELEPHANTS: Considered one of world’s best long jumpers and a gold medal contender for the 2004 Games in Athens, Dwight Philips looks down the seemingly endless track, mentally preparing himself for his jump. He swings his arms back and forth and bends forward, ready to sprint. He tears forward, defying speed. Transitioning to slow motion, he springs into the air, flying higher and higher. We see Dwight from above, seemingly one hundred feet above ground. Revealed below Dwight’s form is an enormous mass of elephant tusks piled on the ground below. His voice-over begins: “There’s only one way a champion long jumper can clear an entire herd of elephants. When they’ve been butchered for their ivory. Help put an end to the illegal wildlife trade before its too late.” Dwight begins descending during the voice-over, and the spot ends abruptly as he lands, his feet firmly planting themselves into the earth.

CATHY FREEMAN: 400-Meter Gold Medalist Cathy Freeman stands on the edge of a cliff as silver clouds swirl above, threatening a violent thunderstorm. Her head turning slowly to look at the camera, her hair flies in the wind. The camera pulls far back to show a silhouette of her on the cliffside. A gun is revealed in her hand, she opens the chamber and lets the bullets spill out onto the ground. She speaks directly to the camera: “It could mean the start of a race or the end of one. It’s up to us. Together we can save our endangered animals. When we all come together, we can do anything”.

HAILIE GEBRESELASSIE: The spot begins with a shot of a lone, majestic tree in the African plains. Upbeat, native percussions sound as legendary middle-distance runner, Hailie Gebreselassie, runs into the shot. The music continues as we follow Hailie through the town, passing oxen and locals. Hailie’s voiceover begins, “Africa is where it all started. It’s where God’s creatures learned to live together.” As he is speaking, other people begin joining Hailie, running behind him. The crowd that follows continues to grow dramatically as he continues running. Hailie’s voiceover continues, “And today we must lead the way to save them. Together, we can stop the illegal wildlife trade and save our endangered animals. When we all come together…” Hailie and his followers halt to a stop in front of the camera. We close in on Hailie’s face as he speaks and finishes the sentence “…we can do anything”.

About WildAid:

WildAid is an international nonprofit organization working with governments, local groups and the media to eliminate the illegal trade in wildlife. WildAid disrupts the illegal trade at every level, using an approach the New York Times Magazine described as “aggressive, but economically comprehensive.” WildAid channels 100% of donations from the public into model programs designed to reduce poaching through better law enforcement, outreach, and development of economic alternatives for local populations. WildAid targets illegal traders and smugglers through undercover investigations and by training police and customs officers. Reduction in demand for illegal wildlife products is achieved through groundbreaking mass media public education. Founded in 1999, WildAid is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices in New York, Washington D.C., London, Russia, Cambodia, Thailand, India, China and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

About J. Walter Thompson: J. Walter Thompson and WildAid have shared a creative relationship since 1996. J. Walter Thompson, which celebrates its 140th anniversary this year, ranks as the largest advertising agency brand in the United States and as the fourth largest full-service network in the world. Its parent company is WPP (NASDAQ: WPPGY).

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org