More than 40 years after teaming up to create the iconic “crying Indian” advertising campaign, Keep America Beautiful and the Advertising Council have joined forces to promote the benefits of recycling. The new public service campaign, created by Pereira & O’Dell, uses a plastic bottle and aluminum cans — recycled, respectively, into a bench and sports stadium — to illustrate how recyclable materials can be given a second, useful life.
Established 60 years ago, Keep America Beautiful began collaborating with the Ad Council in 1960, initially using a character named Susan Spotless to promote anti-littering efforts with taglines like “Every litter bit hurts” and “Don’t be a litterbug.”
On Earth Day in 1971, the two organizations introduced the “crying Indian” commercial, which was created by Marsteller Advertising and featured the actor Iron Eyes Cody paddling a canoe through polluted waters and crying at the spectacle. Ad Age named the advertising — which was designed to promote individual responsibility in protecting the environment and ran until 1983 — one of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century. Until the announcement of the new campaign last week, the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful had not worked together since 1983.
Keep America Beautiful established a recycling department four years ago, and today focuses its efforts on waste diversion. It partners with state recycling organizations, government officials, trade associations and businesses to advance its recycling agenda.
According to data recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2011 the average American produced 4.4 pounds of trash per day, while the United States produced more than 250 million tons of trash that year. However, the E.P.A. also found that only about 35 percent of this trash was recycled. In addition, research conducted by the Ad Council earlier this summer found that just 52 percent of Americans said they were “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about properly recycling, while only 38 percent identified themselves as “avid” recyclers.
Brenda Pulley, senior vice president for recycling of Keep America Beautiful, called the new public service campaign “the emotional push needed to raise awareness and positively change people’s behavior to recycle more. Our intent is to increase recycling rates, which translates into measurable benefits including waste reduction, energy savings, natural resource conservation and job creation.”
The new campaign — by the San Francisco-based Pereira & O’Dell, which is controlled by the São Paulo-based Grupo ABC — uses television, radio, outdoor and online advertising to promote Keep America Beautiful’s recycling agenda.
A radio spot begins with a child’s voice, saying, “When I grow up, I want to be a new pair of blue jeans.” Other children chime in with things like “a kid’s first computer,” “a glass countertop in a new home” and “a warm fleece on a cold day.” The spot concludes with a child saying: “When I grow up, I don’t want to be a piece of garbage. And if you recycle me, I won’t be.” The announcer then urges listeners to “give your garbage another life. Recycle. Learn how at IWanttoBeRecycled.org,” a new Web site that lets visitors search for local recycling centers by ZIP code.
Similarly, a TV spot, in 30- and 60-second versions, follows the journey of an empty plastic bottle as it tumbles from city to city and is placed by a passer-by into a recycling bin. Both spots end with a shot of a bench — made, in part, from the plastic bottle, now recycled — on a cliff overlooking the sea. The voice-over, representing the bottle, says: “Everybody has a dream. Mine was to see the ocean. With a little help, I made it.” The spots conclude with the tagline, “Give your garbage another life. Recycle.”
P.J. Pereira, chief creative officer of Pereira & O’Dell, said he hoped the metaphor of the journey of the “very delicate” plastic bottle would inspire people to remember to recycle when they threw out their garbage. Noting that “a lot of people are confused about what they should recycle,” Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the Ad Council, said the new campaign presented an opportunity to educate them. She also said the campaign was aimed at “the general market, people who are not currently avid recyclers.”
The new campaign is being underwritten by the American Chemistry Council, Waste Management, Nestle Waters North America, Niagara Bottling, Unilever, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation and the Alcoa Foundation; one of the TV spots was shot at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, which is partially constructed from postconsumer recycled aluminum.
Candy Lee, a professor of integrated marketing communications at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, said the campaign “in a very attractive way creates the value of taking time to recycle.” Melissa Goodall, assistant director of the office of sustainability at Yale University, said that although Keep America Beautiful’s earlier Susan Spotless and “crying Indian” campaigns developed a “very personal and emotional connection” with audiences, it was not clear that “anthropomorphizing cans and bottles is going to inspire people to recycle. I think this campaign will appeal to people who are inclined to recycle. It will be interesting to see if it inspires people who don’t already recycle to do so.”
Allen Hershkowitz, director of the solid waste project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the new campaign “very welcome,” but questioned how effective it would be given that recycling programs in the United States are underwritten by financially-strapped municipal governments that must also fund education and social service initiatives, as well as police and fire departments. “As long as we rely on taxpayer-financed recycling programs, we will never achieve high recycling rates,” he said, adding that recycling is underwritten by consumer product companies “whose material winds up as waste” in 47 other countries around the world.
Corporate support of the new Keep American Beautiful campaign notwithstanding, Mr. Hershkowitz said the organization should focus its efforts on the need for consumer product companies to recycle. “We are wasting millions of tons of valuable resources in landfills and incinerators because consumer product companies do not pay a nickel for the recycling infrastructure needed to be developed,” he said.