Be the Street
Sometimes it still shocks us that people litter. From where we sit, there’s just no upside to it. Some 9 billion tons of litter ends up in the ocean every year. More than $11 billion dollars is spent every year to pick up those fast food wrappers, single-use plastic bags and cigarette butts. And it’s ugly. Yet littering happens all the time, and one of the largest groups of litterbugs in the US is young people. The Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA) knew this and wanted a way to change the way kids felt about littering.
In 2013, we helped BASMAA create and launch the first-of-its-kind branded public education and outreach campaign. Our target audience was 14-24 year olds, living in the Bay Area. Our campaign would unify a range of communication tools from grassroots outreach to social media and custom-made YouTube videos to a mobile app YouTube video, to social media, to a mobile app under a single brand: Be the Street.
When it comes to kids, you have to talk with them, not at them. That was the core strategy for Be the Street. We had to create a brand they would interact and invest in. It had to be authentic and it couldn’t come off too governmental or parental. What’s more we had to find ways to communicate our brand using tools they liked, at times that made sense to them and in a tone that rang true. Once we built a brand that young people would engage with, we would foster a sense of community so the kids would become the spokespeople for the campaign, passing on the message to their peers.
What we did
First we listened. For Be the Street to feel authentic, it needed to speak to kids, not an environmental and social marketing firm. We took what we heard and designed a brand that focused on our audience rather than our goal. It sounds strange. Be the Street isn’t an anti-littering campaign as much as a pride in your community initiative. Of course, community pride is essential to tossing trash in the trash can, but it also helps foster a world where people dream big, respect differences and support each other.
Next we started hanging out where kids hang out. We launched Facebook and Instagram pages. We created a website and sponsored events on high school and college campuses. And we played it cool. Rather than pushing our message too aggressively, we showed up consistently, delivering key points in an entertaining, inspirational and lighthearted way, and let them find us. Within 18 months, Be the Street’s Facebook page had more traffic than any stormwater public education program in California.
Then we got moving. We held a video contest on YouTube, asking our fans to create anti-litter/pro-community PSAs and allowing the community to vote for the winner. We received 52 entries and tens of thousands of video views. We created a meme contest on Facebook and received 100 local entries and hundreds of votes. We even developed a mobile app, available for download on iTunes and Google Play, that brought gamification to behavior change. Players were challenged to complete pro-environmental missions to earn points that could be redeemed for real prizes.