Ogvily's Anti-Littering Campaign

Brilliant Behavior Marketing: Ogilvy’s Anti-Littering Campaign

Hong Kong's Anti-Littering CampaignDid you know that Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year? Me neither.

But, the Hong Kong Clean Up Initiative, a non-profit anti-littering group, teamed up with Ogilvy-Mather to address the problem by publicly shaming litter bugs in what they are calling The Face of Litter campaign.

In order to change behaviors, the group uses DNA collected from discarded cigarette butts, gum and condoms to create renderings of the faces of people who left their trash, which are then broadcast on massive billboards around town.

Ogilvy & Mather HK – ‘The Face of Litter’ from Work that works on Vimeo.

More than 27 facial composites have been created and displayed so far around the city.

Some people have said this campaign is “creepy” and goes too far.

I have to say, I think it is pure genius.

Changing people’s behavior is one of the most difficult tasks in all of marketing.

There are only a few things that truly drive behavior change:

  1. Give new meaning to the existing behavior.
  2. Engage directly with change agents.
  3. Create guilt or shame.
  4. Create legislation.

I grew up with two of the most successful anti-litter campaigns in history:

These campaigns worked. I saw it for myself as the landscape of our highways transformed from garbage dumps to litter-free roads with corporate sponsors to keep them that way. Of course, the new fines for littering also played a major role.

This Face of Litter campaign is clearly shame-driven.

Everyone knows not to litter.

Everyone gets embarrassed AND does the right thing when they are busted for it.

I once saw someone in a grocery store parking lot open his car door and drop fast food bags on the ground. You can imagine his surprise, when I walked up, tapped on his window, held his trash out to him and said, “I believe you dropped this.” He pretended it was an accident and thanked me as he took his trash back.

Just this weekend, while enjoying the Jazz Festival here in Atlanta, my 11 year old step-daughter commented on a girl and her mom who casually dropped their trash on the ground as they walked past us. When the girl’s mom heard my step-daughter’s surprise and my response that “litter bugs are the worst” – the mom doubled back to pick up the garbage and put it in the trash can just steps away.

That’s why I know this campaign will work.

Everyone knows littering is wrong. They just need to be called out for it.

Now, the campaign isn’t straight up public shaming and there is no real invasion of privacy because Ogilvy says they received permission from every person whose trash they picked up.

But, with the threat of the world knowing that you are a litter-bug, I am willing to bet that the citizens of Hong Kong will think twice before dropping their trash in the street again.


  1. Jennifer, how exactly does Ogilvy get permission from folks to use their trash? Do the people specifically say “Sure, you can use my trash?” Or, is the permission implied, in that the permission is given because the folks abandoned the trash? If the former, OK. If the latter, that’s a little creepy because while our society has no problems with allowing such use for the purposes of law enforcement to do DNA testing of trash, for an ad firm to do so for a public shaming campaign seems to be pushing it.

    That being said, clearly the problem is a major one in Hong Kong, and needs an effective solution. Shaming is likely to be even more effective in a culture like Hong Kong where face is so important.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I don’t have any more information than their statement that they “received permission from every person whose trash they picked up.” I assume they mean they received permission to broadcast these people’s images to the public. But, I can’t say for sure. And, I do agree, the shame campaign would certainly be effective in a culture like Hong Kong’s.

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