28 March 2016

Trash talk #nlpoli

The folks at the City of St. John’s wanted to boost their curb-side recycling program.

Last fall, they launched a campaign called “Blue is the new Black”.  Blue is the colour used for recycling bags and the campaign name is fairly plain play on a very old phrase to describe something that is currently fashionable.

No one seems to have noticed the campaign until last week when the St. John’s Status of Women Council took issue with the cover illustration from the newly issued guide to city services (right).

In a story in the Telegram, Status of women executive director Jenny Wright condemned the illustration.  For one thing, said Wright,  the photo objectifies women with its use of a scantily clad model.  For another thing,  the use of the phrase “don’t be trashy” uses a word with negative and pejorative connotations aimed solely at women.

The whole line was:   “Blue is the new black: Don’t be trashy, recycling is always in fashion.”
Just to give you a really good idea of just how unimpressive this campaign has been, understand that it was launched not last week but last October.  The city held a competition to design women’s clothes out of trash bags.  To cap it off, they held a fashion show – how 1950s can you get? -  featuring the designs.  CBC reported on it, for one.

No one batted an eyelid.

The best the city could offer in its defence was an apology  - big deal - and say that its communication staff had researched the issue extensively.  They discovered that recycling initiatives in households are driven by women.

That’s pretty lame.

Advertisers have known for decades that women make or influence pretty well every decision in any household.  Men buy diamonds and perfume.  Women drive everything else.

What’s really odd about this recycling campaign is how the city managed to produced such a campaign in the first place.  I mean it’s not like the city’s comms folks are bags of testosterone.

In fact,  there’s likely not a man among the lot of them. Yet somehow they managed to produce an incredibly old-fashioned campaign.

To get a sense of just how tone deaf this campaign is, consider that there are big companies already in the trash and recycling business.  Armed with precisely the same sort of information, the kind of image they show in their advertising reflects the role women play in household decisions without resorting to superficial looks and stereotypes.  Here’s a still from an ad for Glad, just to illustrate the point.

There's a difference between trying to flog a few plastic bags and changing people's behaviour.  That's what you have to do to boost recycling rates:  change people's behaviour.  To do that sort of thing you have to do a lot more than just say it is fashionable to recycle.

You have to change the social environment in which people act.  It's like changing public attitudes toward smoking  - something your humble e-scribbler knows a thing about - or drinking and driving.  you have to make it socially unacceptable to do anything but recycle.

The sexist, antiquated messaging in the city's campaign is only the most obvious thing that's wrong with the campaign.  The fact that the slogan has been used to flog everything from martini's to dresses should have warned them off using it.  If you don;t believe that just google "blue is the new black".

What's less obvious to most people - but painfully so to anyone familiar with social marketing - is that the city's little dog and pony show is a superficial pile of foolishness.  offering people the chance to win a couple of hundred bucks for going on a mailing list won't take a single tin can out of the trash.  All it will do is help compile a list.  Someone will hold up that list as evidence people are interested in recycling.  It doesn't show anything other than some people wanted a chance for an easy gift certificate.

The only measurement of success in a recycling campaign is a change in the amount being recycled. Seems obvious when you read it stated like that but it isn't obvious to the folks at city hall.

There's your problem right there.

If the folks at city hall really want to change recycling rates, they they are going to have to do more than host a fashion show or even replace the laughable bit of 1950s cheesecake with a photo of a hockey player naked except for a balled-up recycling bag strategically covering his equipment.

The fact that they plan to continue the crappy campaign tells you a lot, including that the folks at city hall aren't serious about recycling.

Now there's a surprise.