What's with all the pink sheep?

You never know what will touch a nerve with people. Apparently, a tiny pink sheep does the trick.

pink sheep 88 248 (photo credit: Aimee Neistat)
pink sheep 88 248
(photo credit: Aimee Neistat)
A flock of pink sheep made its way around Tel Aviv this month on a 10-day mission to spread optimism. They started on the Ayalon Highway early on December 2, on a grassy patch next to the Shalom exit. Drivers sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on their way to work noticed the innocent looking cardboard sheep and wondered what they were doing there. But nobody knew. There were no banners advertising a political campaign, nor protesters calling for an underprivileged group's rights. In fact, the people behind the sheep remained totally anonymous and the message was not announced until a few days later. On Thursday December 4, the Yediot Aharonot daily published an article explaining that the pink sheep were part of a campaign to spread optimism among the people of Tel Aviv. Metro sought out the man behind the project and asked him what exactly the pink sheep were for. "I wanted to create... a social campaign that would arise from the people, where they would see something pink... and start to smile. Then that smile would become contagious and provide people with a sort of optimism that doesn't exist in their everyday lives," Eyal Naor said. Naor is the manager of EXP, an event production and sales promotion company in Tel Aviv. "As a company manager and someone who deals with customers, suppliers and staff, [I have been surrounded by people] who are lacking optimism in light of the financial crisis and fear of a recession," he said. "I'm a naturally optimistic person, so it's hard for me to hear people speaking and behaving so pessimistically. I got up one morning and said, 'I have to take action.'" He began searching for ideas. The marketing manager of Sahar Group - a signposting company - who had known Naor for many years approached him in late November with a new product he was eager to pitch - a sheep made of styrofoam. "I looked, smiled and asked, 'Can you get it in pink?' He said, 'Of course - whatever you want.' I said, 'Listen. I need 20-30 pink sheep like that within two days.' He said 'No problem. You've got it,'" Naor explained with enthusiasm. All the staff at EXP got in on the project. They created a logo, a name and a blog page on café.themarker.com. They also created a profile for the project on the Facebook social networking site and changed their own Facebook status updates to read: "I'm also an optimistic sheep." Knowledge of the so-called "Optimi-sheep" began to spread. Within days the flock made its first appearance. It spent its first three mornings on the Ayalon, then moved to Ramat HaHayal in the north of the city and appeared in the afternoons on Rothschild Blvd. By December 12, the sheep had visited other busy locations, including the Tel Aviv Port, Ben-Gurion Blvd., Namir Way, Tel Aviv University and Cinema City. Police and a security patrolman confronted the Optimi-sheep's supervisors on the first morning they graced the Ayalon, Naor said. According to Naor, the highway's cameras had spotted the flock and its phone center sent out a security patrol car to look into the unusual display. The project supervisor smiled at the patrolman and explained that the sheep were neither a demonstration nor a commercial promotion, but simply intended to make people smile and be optimistic. At first, he did not believe her. "You're standing here with 30 sheep just so people will smile," said the patrolman, to which the supervisor replied, "Yes." After that, police came and attempted to remove the display, continued Naor. "Listen," the supervisor said, "The sheep are here in the name of optimism. Be optimistic - have a great day." She smiled at the police, signed a declaration that she wasn't demonstrating or advertising any product, and that was that, Naor explained. The sheep supervisors were a team of EXP employees assigned to watch people's reactions to the Optimi-sheep. The employees came back to work smiling, full of energy, saying how amazing it had been to see what effect the sheep were having on people. "Children pass by and take photos with the sheep, people are smiling... reacting so warmly, wanting to understand [and identify with] the sheep and everything that's connected to them," Naor said, quoting his staff. At first, Naor attempted to keep the project's creators anonymous. He wanted people to speak about optimism and not about who or what was behind the campaign. But blogs and rumors were tying the Optimi-sheep to things as diverse as tampons, homosexuality, the Tel Aviv Municipality and political parties. So Naor raised the veil to put a stop to the suspicions. People asked to buy the knee-height statuettes or the T-shirts printed with pink sheep that the supervisors wore. But Naor, not wanting to profit from the project, declined such offers. The total cost of the project, NIS 5,000, came out of his pocket, and the Sahar Group donated the sheep. He did, however, see them as an opportunity to raise money for charity in the future, and he wants to sell Optimi-sheep merchandise and donate all proceeds to a handful of organizations that care for children, such as the Make-A-Wish foundation of Israel. He figures that if he's already found a character that people identify with, he should take advantage of the opportunity by channeling its moneymaking potential to a good cause. The Optimi-sheep is just the beginning of Naor's mission to spread optimism. He has also made an application to the UN to make December 12 an official International Day of Optimism. "Optimism should be present 365 days of the year - not something that comes and goes... but [an International Day of Optimism would] remind people to be optimistic," said Naor. It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what one has not yet achieved or acquired, he warns, but people should search for the things in their lives that can make them optimistic and happy. "That's what we have to focus on," he said.