Grab the kids first, and the adults will follow.
In a nutshell, that’s the strategy behind Chowder’s move to produce a children’s book, Tuke the Specialist Turtle, as the agency seeks funds to preserve and restore coral reef. Proceeds from the colorfully illustrated book, which comes out July 1, will benefit the Coral Reef Conservancy, the public face of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and an agency client.
“Sixty percent of the world’s coral reefs are dead or declining. This is true and no one knows it,” said Jim Ritterhoff, a partner at Chowder who serves on the institute’s board and co-wrote the book. “It’s one of the rare things that doesn’t have to go extinct and never come back. And we can make a change. So, I’m thinking about, to laymen, how do we spread the message of, ‘There are these special places that we need to protect?’ And we (on the board) were like, ‘Well, you start with kids.’”
Flashing back to his childhood, Ritterhoff recalled how public-service ads built around animal characters like Woodsy Owl and Smokey the Bear instilled in him concern about pollution and fire safety. “And I was like, ‘Wow, if we could do something like that...’”
While Tuke may not become an icon like Smokey, the turtle who’s too small for his shell comes across as a likeable and sympathetic critter, as he struggles to find his place among bigger, older sea creatures.
He finally rests easy when a whale shark points to a “CCMI” tag on his fin and says, “It means researchers chose you to study,” adding, “The more they learn about you, the more they’ll know about the sea and how to protect it. The tag is a reminder of your role as a guardian of our precious reefs. I can’t think of anything more special than that.”
The story ends with Tuke smiling proudly among sea urchins, crabs, starfish and yes, coral reef, after a piggyback ride atop the whale shark.
Chowder printed 3,000 copies of the book, which will be sold online, at book stores and at gift shops inside museums and aquariums. Eight hundred copies were set aside for schools on the Cayman Islands, where the institute is based.
Chowder also handles tourism advertising for the islands, though the New York shop has taken non-ad routes for that client as well. In 2008, the agency produced a feature film about a self-centered actor who becomes an island enthusiast after scuba diving and bonding with natives.
Like Tuke, the movie Cayman Went stemmed from an idea that Ritterhoff had worked on and set aside before ultimately bringing it to life. In both cases, he had a lot of help from inside and outside the agency. The co-author of Tuke, for example, was Melissa Tomjanovich, daughter of former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich. The illustrator was Tory Novikova.