Fashionable critters urge Torontonians to not feed the wildlife

Raccoons are as much a part of the fabric of Toronto as Lakeshore Boulevard gridlock and the sound of 7 a.m. jackhammering.

But, much to the bemusement of some residents, a new City of Toronto advertising campaign developed by Publicis (with media by Starcom) has somehow managed to transform these “trash pandas” from deadbeats into dashing dandies.

Running across out-of-home and online, the campaign debuted earlier this month, and features one of the city’s estimated 100,000 raccoons—except he’s unbearably cute and wearing a jaunty bowtie (in our mind, he’s named Reginald Raccoon III).

Other ads in the campaign feature a fox wearing a napkin tied around its neck like he’s set to tuck into a dinner of clams and linguini, and a coyote with ribbons in its ears.

Each image is accompanied by a message that reads “They’re not pets. Don’t feed them. Keeping (featured animal) wild keeps us all safe.”

The campaign is announcing a new regulation in the city’s Animals Bylaw that takes effect April 1, making it illegal to feed wildlife on both private and public property. In a release, the city cited an increase in “negative interactions” between people and the city’s various forms of wildlife..

But it’s possible that the message, particularly in the raccoon ad, might have been obscured by the critter’s finery.

“That good boy is getting the finest foods!” said one person on Twitter Monday. “I want to vote for them as mayor,” added another. “Look at them! All dressed up for the job they want!”

In a joint statement to The Message, Publicis and the City of Toronto said the goal was to grab the attention of people who see the animals as “sweet critters that need a helping hand.” They said they deliberately avoided portraying the animals as sinister because they don’t want Torontonians to fear them but instead understand that while they’re cute, they are wild animals and shouldn’t be treated as pets.

“We are happy to see that our ads have sparked discussions and garnered an overall lighthearted, positive, and humorous response,” said the statement. “Many people have gravitated to the raccoon execution as a lot of Torontonians have a close relationship with them, but we want to highlight that we are talking about coyotes, foxes, and raccoons with this campaign.”

If the next wave of ads doesn’t have a squirrel in a fedora, we’re gonna be disappointed.

Chris Powell