Pubdate: Fri, 20 Oct 2006
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Cynthia Leonor Garza


Popular Bunny's Negative Attitude May Reach a Wider Audience, They

It's cute and always happy, but it's this bunny's big attitude and 
messages like, "You're ugly and that's sad" that have won over scores 
of teens, "tweens" and even adults around the globe.

"It's Happy Bunny" -- the pop icon whose smiling face and snarky 
messages appear on everything from T-shirts to key chains, lunch 
boxes and even toilet paper -- will now channel its scorn to vices 
that tempt youth: drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free Texas commissioned the bunny's 
award-winning illustrator, Jim Benton, to create a new series of 
public service messages deriding substance abuse. The national 
Partnership for a Drug-Free America has used caricatures and famous 
people in the past to promote the anti-drug message. But this is the 
first use of a popular illustrated character for anti-drug resource 
materials, said Paul Costiglio, deputy director of public affairs for 
the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Officials expect the bunny to win instant credibility among 
hard-to-reach youths.

Appealing to students

The bunny campaign debuts in Texas schools this month, coinciding 
with national Red Ribbon Week, which runs Oct. 23-31 every year. The 
weeklong anti-drug campaign honors the memory of Drug Enforcement 
Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who was tortured and 
murdered by Mexico City drug traffickers in 1985.

"We always try to create messages that are credible and use mediums 
that are credible with kids, and a lot of times that can be hard," 
Partnership for a Drug-Free Texas Director Chris Sharman said.

Schools are the easiest place to reach youths, but educators 
sometimes resist edgier ideas or indirect messages and refuse to 
display posters.

"It's really a 50-50 chance" the bunny campaign will succeed with 
youths, said 11-year-old Kourtney Spriggins, who attended a rally in 
Austin on Thursday with 10 other members of the Missouri City Middle 
School Teens Against Drugs. They joined students from across the 
state in donning bunny T-shirts at the annual Red Ribbon Rally at the Capitol.

International celebrity

Spriggins isn't a bunny fan, but she said plenty of her schoolmates are.

"If that bunny says mean things on clothes, that's not really a good 
influence," Spriggins said. Still, "I think kids mostly pay attention 
to negative things."

The campaign's first messages target alcohol, smoking and methamphetamine use.

One message has the gleeful bunny spreading this bit of wisdom: 
"Drugs. The perfect choice for kids who want to be stupid but weren't 
born that way."

Another says: "Meth. Finally a simple way to become a twitchy idiot 
in no time."

This is the bunny's first foray into the public service announcement 
business, Benton said. He created the character a decade ago, but it 
didn't get marketed for a few years because "nobody got the joke," 
Benton said. Once specialty stores that target teens began carrying 
the merchandise, "It's Happy Bunny" took off.

The character is licensed to more than 60 manufactures in the U.S. 
and Canada, and products can be found at Hot Topic, Claire's, Sears, 
J.C. Penney and Kohl's, among others. The bunny's products are also 
sold in Latin America, Europe and Australia, and plans are in the 
works to spread the message to Asia. Scholastic Inc.'s line of "It's 
Happy Bunny" books are among the top sellers at major bookstores.

"Some people don't get that it's a goof, or some people think that 
everything is representative of something else," said Benton, who 
also writes the bunny's quips. "You really have to know the 
difference between right and wrong to get it. It's Happy Bunny says 
the things you're thinking but don't say."

Benton said he gets fan mail from teachers who use bunny items to 
reward students.

Grabbing attention

Teachers who are less familiar with the bunny have had mixed 
reactions, Sharman said. "Once it's explained to them, that the 
message is not for them but for the kids, we found a lot of 
acceptance," he said.

"Using this character and his cutting humor, hopefully we'll grab 
their attention and they'll get the subtext," Sharman said.

The messages were crafted to be funny but not preachy and to get 
across the point "that you're paying for these things," Benton said. 
"I think their family and friends have all the influence on them, but 
this might put a little notion in their head."

The state partnership, which works with the national organization 
with the same name, has printed a limited 400,000 stickers and 
200,000 posters because of budget and trademark reasons. Officials 
hope retailers will order more drug-free bunny items on their own to 
sell in their shops.

Although the bunny is hip and above all, self-centered, its dissing 
of alcohol and drugs is true to the bunny's character, Benton said.

"Bunny can find the bad in anything."
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