Government agencies are often tasked with informing people about pressing issues. Yet information has a hard time competing for attention. People like entertainment. Enter the “Lake Dudes,” animated characters created to catch the attention of boaters, hoping to stop the spread of an invasive water weed that threatens to take over Texas lakes.
“Hey bra, what’s shakin’ lakin’? – Whoa, what happened to you!? – Giant salvinia, dude.” So goes the dialogue in one of the five animated shorts. In the video called Fu Manchu, one of the two dudes, who represent lakes, grows a mustache of giant salvinia that spreads all over him, to the horror of his friend.
The Lake Dudes are one small, yet creative part of a much broader, statewide effort, made possible through arecord funding increase in state dollars to fight aquatic invaders in lakes and along rivers. In 2015, the Texas Legislative appropriated $6.3 million to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the 2016-2017 biennium to manage aquatic invasive species, an increase from $1.1 million in the previous two-year funding cycle.
Most of the funding is going for management actions to control the various problem species, but thanks to the increase, this marks the first time since 2011 that TPWD has been able to fund a giant salvinia awareness campaign, which also uses contributions from the Sabine River Authority and Brazos River Authority. The campaign reminds boaters to “Clean, Drain and Dry” their boats, trailers, and gear before traveling from one lake or river to another, since boats are the main way aquatic invasive species are spread. It includes online and radio ads, billboards, gas station advertising, emails, social media and the Lake Dudes animations.
Giant salvinia, a non-native plant first found in Texas in 1997, is a free-floating fern that can double in size in just a few days and can form mats on the water up to 3 feet thick. It can take over an entire cove at a lake in a matter of weeks, choking out all aquatic life below its thick mats and making boating, swimming or fishing impossible.
The Lake Dudes concept originated from Tom Grodek, art director with Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, which TPWD hired to help with the awareness campaign. Grodek felt so passionately about the concept that he worked many hours in his spare time, donating time to the cause in order to work out the kinks and polish the videos for release. Grodek also does the voice of Brody, one of the dudes.
“We wanted to use humor and peer pressure to break through, grab attention and encourage people to not be “that guy” who ruins the fun for everyone at the lake,” said Nicole Goodman, TPWD marketing specialist, explaining the thinking behind the Lake Dudes.
The concept appears to be working. From early summer through Aug. 23, the five Lake Dudes animations generated 863,479 video views, reaching an estimated 1,206,742 people. Party on, dudes.
The public can learn more about giant salvinia, and watch the Lake Dudes videos, athttp://texasinvasives.org/giantsalvinia. News media can access video, photos, audio files, maps showing the spread of giant salvinia in Texas lakes, and other story resources on the TPWD website.