As a member of The University of Nottingham, one of the things I came to be aware of all those years ago during my Fresher’s Week was the presence of smiling, sober people with painted faces and someone in a tiger suit. This was the frontline representation of Easy Tiger. With Week One just gone, Impact went undercover and into the jungle itself, as we became an Easy Tiger Rep, and learnt why Easy Tiger exists, what it does, and also, what a whole spectrum of students think it.
After sheepishly introducing myself to the disarmingly friendly SU Exec, I went along to the first informal meeting. I was greeted by a group of students of varying ages and courses that seemed to have one thing in common – they all liked to go out and have a good time. Easy Tiger has an unofficial reputation as being like a goody-two-shoes “Nanny” presence on nights out, but these people were quite the opposite. They wanted to have fun, and they wanted the people they were encountering on the Week One nights to have fun too!
After tucking into a few Wasabi Peas, which are a hidden gem of the snack food world, we were told the history of Easy Tiger. The campaign began around 2000, when startling statistics of STI and abortion rates emerged, highlighting particular problems with Week One. Because of this, the SU needed a campaign that promoted two main messages:
Safe Sex – Protection from STIs and prevention of unplanned pregnancy
Alcohol Awareness – Drinking in moderation and protection from drink spiking.
Easy Tiger became the brand name associated with the campaign. From my discussions with the Easy Tiger Reps, no-one seems to know what came first – the costume, or the name. This ‘chicken and egg’ debate will rage on for millennia I’m sure, but an effective and striking combination it remains nevertheless.
The floor was opened up for us to chat about what we thought Easy Tiger was about, how we should help engage students as successfully as possible and what ways we could improve the campaign on the front line. An awareness of the awkwardness we all feel when discussing sex was discussed, as well as the importance of sometimes just being there to talk to someone that feels lonely or distressed on a night out. These important issues were mixed in with a few horror stories from nights out involving numerous bottles of rum, trips to clinics and embarrassing pictures that gave the impression that Easy Tiger is both a sympathetic and empathetic campaign!
Preparing for a night of Easy Tiger-ing might not be the military-style operation you imagine. All the reps gathered in the Portland Building, and proceeded to laugh about the fact that at the end of the day, we were painting each other’s faces like tigers. I can assure you that though I looked as fierce as could be, some of those paint-jobs could hardly muster a “miaow”. Undeterred, and armed with enough condoms, spikeys, alcotops and stickers to cater to an entire nightclub, we headed into the depths of Nottingham. I was lucky enough to share a taxi with Easy Tiger himself, and was happy to hear all the stories of being hugged, piled on and photographed safe in the knowledge the closest I would get would be holding his fluffy head. Which did not smell very nice at all.
When we arrived at our first destination, a fashionable bar, a few things became apparent. First, and most importantly, most of the Freshers we actually glad to see us. Not only did we represent Easy Tiger, but we also represented experience at University and I was surprised by how many questions we were asked about life as a student as a whole.
Secondly, and less importantly, Freshers love getting stickers put on them. The girls seemed to like the attention, and were aware of the campaign, with one reveller telling me, “It’s great! It’s a really fun idea and it makes people less embarrassed.” The guys seemed to think that having a sticker would, to quote one enlightened soul, “make girls respect you more.” I didn’t want to get into the validity of that too much with so many people yet to talk to, but at least he wore the sticker and got the whole gambit of protective equipment.
Thirdly, and possibly most interestingly, everyone loves the Easy Tiger suit. That night, that stripy chap was the embodiment of the old phrase, “Every girl wants to be with him, every guy wants to be him”. Girls loved hugging him, getting photographs with him, and dancing with him. Guys loved hugging him, getting photographs with him, and dancing with him. They liked jumping on him too, but since the suit is padded, we can ignore that and say that as a brand, Easy Tiger connected with hundreds of students, both male and female, on a completely fun and innocent level.
The question of publicity has been one asked of Easy Tiger. Many people aren’t even aware of the campaign. Helen, one of the lovely Reps working with me at possibly the most universally enjoyed Ocean I’ve ever seen said that many people asked her, “Where can I get my face painted like that?” Aside from being an easy way to talk about the campaign, it showed that numerous students still aren’t aware of what Easy Tiger is all about. In discussion with a Week One Rep about the pros and cons of Easy Tiger, she agreed that it was a good campaign, but that it “would be good if it went all year. Also, Easy Tiger should be at more hall dinners. Everyone is there then, and they are much more responsive then without the loud music and dancing.” Another Rep responded to questions of improvements to the campaign by simply saying, “It could do with much more publicity to get the message out there.”
Whilst I was taking my dip in Ocean, face-paint teetering on the edge of looking like a tiger or an overly tanned Beverly Hills cougar with her make up running, I spoke to a group of students who did a wide range of degrees, from History to Medicine to French. Some were unsure of the overall message, asking me, “Isn’t it just about condoms?” and other seemed a little more informed on the subject, providing me with the information that “girls don’t mind you giving them condoms if you’re Easy Tiger.” Protective materials duly dished out, I was happy to learn that Easy Tiger is seen as an asexual, unisex campaign – males and females alike understand that there is nothing behind Easy Tiger than a desire to help students have as much fun as possible, but to help protect them from certain pitfalls that, like drink spiking, are sometimes completely out of their control.
Impact has learnt a great deal about the work of Easy Tiger this week. It is a campaign whose message has to exist because of SU rules, but the way in which it is presented, and the people who present it, seem determined to make it as accessible and effective as possible. Being an Easy Tiger Rep was actually really enjoyable. You may be surprised, but my co-tigers were fun, friendly people, who liked going out, and understood that Easy Tiger isn’t there to lecture students – it’s there to help them. It was also great to see on an individual level the awareness and appreciation the students have of the campaign, and the lack of embarrassment they feel when talking about sensitive issues with people they know they can trust in. Also, I learnt that I can shake someone’s hand and put a condom in it in a way that would make James Bond drool. Easy Tiger IS cool and a lot of fun!