Did you know that pigeons are liars?
Let me explain.
They’re secretly spying on us. All birds are. Birds aren’t real and never have been – at least, not since the 1970s. But our story starts further back in 1947 when the C.I.A. was founded. The goal of the C.I.A. has always been to collect intelligence to ensure the security of the United States and provide information regarding the U.S.’s foreign policy.
As the decade ended and the second world war was behind us, the threat of communism was rising. The Korean War had just begun as North Korea invaded South Korea, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested and executed for suspected espionage. The government decided that birds had to go. Using a specially formulated bird poison that replicated and spread to other birds, they killed every bird in the United States. That’s 12 billion birds from between 1959-2001. So, you may find yourself asking, if the government killed birds, then why am I watching them outside my window right now?
That’s because they’re surveillance drones.
That’s right. Birds aren’t real – literally. They’re sophisticated drones made by the government to spy on the general population. The C.I.A. decided that it needed a way to keep tabs on the population, especially in the age of McCarthyism and the red scare. As the program grew, so did the need for different types of birds. For example, owls are night surveillance drones, bluebirds are retina scanners, and pigeons are city surveillance drones.
The government watches everything you do: going to work, brushing your teeth, printing t-shirts, and selling pens. For years, our rights have been violated – they see everything from above, all without our consent! But don’t worry because a movement has started, and we are the brave voices that work hard to take this country back. Together we will take our privacy back.
We will not bow down to these overlords!
What happens if you’ve encountered a bird in your life? First, just stay calm. Remember to breathe. Look the bird directly in the eyes and say the following statement confidently: “I know your secret. I know that you are a surveillance drone in disguise. I know that behind those beady eyes are cameras, soaking up data and sending it to the pentagon. I am onto you. I know you’re not real.” This will assert your dominance over the drone. You are superior.
Remember: if it flies, it spies.
For more information about these invasive drones, check out the movement website here.
Okay, so if you stayed with me through that, I know it sounds absolutely nuts.
And that’s the point.
The concept of all birds being replaced by surveillance drones in the United States to spy on the general population sounds outrageous. There’s no way anyone could exterminate the entire bird population in the United States (7.2 Million as of 2019) and replace them with robots. It’s hard enough just to get a pothole fixed.
So, why do people believe in it?
They don’t. Or, at least, not really.
Started in 2017 by Peter McIndoe, a then-University of Arkansas student, he had grown up in a strict household where his parents were against most mainstream pop culture. Once in high school and having access to social media, McIndoe became aware that what his parents were teaching was laced with conspiracy theories.
For McIndoe, the internet provided him with real-world education through documentaries, social media sites like Reddit, and YouTube commentators. He also realized that he wasn’t alone – and that there were others out there (primarily mid-to-younger Millennials and Gen-Z) that had been raised in the same way.
In January 2017, however, was when it all started. McIndoe was in Memphis visiting friends, former President Donald Trump had just been sworn in, and in response, there were women’s marches all over the country. McIndoe witnessed this take place in downtown Memphis, and among the protesters and counterprotesters, he had an idea. He ripped a poster off a wall, flipped it over, and wrote: “Birds Aren’t Real.”
It was a spontaneous joke, a reflection of how he was feeling at the moment. As he walked around and began to develop the lore behind the movement, he convinced people he was a part of a larger movement that believed that all the birds in the United States had been replaced with surveillance drones, and it had been covered up since the 1970s. Someone took a video of him, shared it on Facebook, and the movement became a viral sensation. Soon, Birds Aren’t Real graffiti, stickers, and more started to show up around Memphis.
At first, it was an experimentation in the spread of misinformation. McIndoe had created an entirely fictional world that had even been reported on by local news. Then it grew larger. They organized protests in front of Twitter headquarters and in Saint Louis (where they burned a Cardinals flag) urging them to change their logo and mascot. They have a whole store of merchandise. Thousands of people rep their shirts, have stickers on their Yeti mugs and MacBook Pros, and have joined the Reddit community. The New York Times covered the movement (though McIndoe recently announced they’re “suing” the times for slander). Even the C.I.A. got in on the joke.
So, what’s the point, and why does it tie into the promotional products industry?
The idea behind Birds Aren’t Real is to thumb its nose at contemporary conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory to challenge conspiracy theories. Long gone are the days of fun conspiracy theories like Area 51, lizard overlords, MK-Ultra, the Denver Airport, and the belief that Walt Disney’s frozen head lies under the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. They’ve been replaced by dangerous conspiracies like QAnon, Pizzagate, Flat Earth, and the fear that 5G is going to melt our brains.
Birds Aren’t Real uses guerilla marketing (a marketing technique that frequently uses low-cost marketing and innovative tactics to get maximum exposure for a product or a brand) and promotional products to spread awareness of how dangerous it can be to not properly research claims and stop the spread of misinformation.
Humans are innately curious creatures. We thrive on exploring and learning, and that’s why promotional products paired with this type of marketing are so successful. As we’ve become a world of technology with what feels like a million ads bombarding us at any given moment when a brand does something simple and yet incredibly creative, it stands out, and it naturally piques our curiosity. With the worldwide web and Google at our fingertips, it makes it easy for us to stand in front of a sticker or a giant Snickers bar and find out what this weird thing is.
And that’s the ingenuity of the Birds Aren’t Real movement. It doesn’t rely on typical marketing tactics to get its point across. When stickers started showing up in Memphis, people took to Google to figure out what this was all about. As the movement grew, they released official Birds Aren’t Real merchandise like t-shirts, masks, and sweatshirts. We already know that these things are walking billboards. With Millennials and Gen-Z’s proclivity for satire and memes, it’s the perfect way for the movement to grow and spread information about misinformation. As more people see these shirts and stickers, they’ll search “Birds Aren’t Real,” and people will share it with their friends thinking it’s absolutely ridiculous and thus the cycle continues.
The same principle can be applied to just about any brand: a clever tagline paired with a promotional product and the power of social media can increase visibility among potential customers, especially if it goes viral. While there isn’t a guarantee that a product will go viral, a t-shirt in a mall or a sticker on a water bottle in a picture on Instagram can do more than you would think. Even if it brings in one or two additional customers, it’s well worth the risk.
Even the smallest promotional product can create a significant impact if applied to the human instinct to want to learn and satisfy our curiosity. Remember: Birds Aren’t Real started with a handmade sign and a couple of stickers.
To learn more about Birds Aren’t Real, take a peek at their website here.
For more information about how you can convince your prospects of the power of promo, check out our blog here.