Right Idea, Wrong Question

Clean Up Britain asks, “Tell us whether you think it is fair to ask companies whose brands are constantly littered to make a contribution to the costs of cleaning up litter?

Yet I think this is the wrong question.  I’ve written before that mitigation (cleaning up litter) is different than a solution (actually preventing litter in the first place), and I think it is the latter that large corporations should be asked to spend their money on.  Why?  

Cleaning up litter is a Sisyphean task.  There may be an eventual decrease in quantity, but, overall, it will keep coming back, incurring the same costs and environmental damage.  But stopping litter from ever reaching the ground?  It’s a win for everyone involved, and potentially where companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Walker’s, Cadbury’s, and, yes, even Red Bull, can be the most effective.

They already know who their audience is and how best to reach them.  They have enormous advertising budgets to try to convince this audience to buy their product. Can you imagine if they used their power for good to encourage people to behave in a socially acceptable way?  

For example, knowing what message is going to actually influence the target audience.  I think many anti-litter campaigns turn people off by being too earnest, preachy, or angry.  The former is only going to reach those who are already interested, the latter just turn people off.

But perhaps humour can work.  For example, can you picture a marketing campaign built around the slogan “Real men use a bin”?  I can.  Or the National Lotto combatting the plague of losing scratch cards found around grocery stores with “You might be a loser, but don’t be a tosser”.  In the hands of the right advertising agency, messages such as this can be crafted to reach those who are actually responsible for dropping the rubbish in the first place.


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