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Marketing Campaign to Raise Awareness and Provide Solutions

A good marketing campaign can be an incredibly powerful weapon. The popularity of the "designated driver" message was the result of a powerful and common sense marketing campaign. What if we use the same tactics with e-waste?

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A strong and targeted marketing campaign can have tremendous influence for social good.  One terrific example is the work that the Harvard School of Public Health did to launch the Designated Driver campaign in 1988.  Our concept is to take the strategies used by these successful campaigns to create a movement toward better recycling, re-purposing, and responsible disposal of our electronics.

Ownership: National meets Local

The government (the EPA or other federal agency) would have ownership over the project and the brand, but would fund and empower local organizations (maybe a youth-run project as discussed in the youth unemployment challenge) to develop locally- and regionally-specific programs.  Essentially, there would be one "owner" of the campaign, but it would be largely designed (with brand guidelines) and implemented by hundreds of smaller NGOs or community-based programs.

Marketing Strategies

We will use proven strategies from past campaigns to increase awareness about our e-waste and help people make informed decisions by providing concrete solutions.  Depending on available resources, this program could be focused on a social media campaign or extended to a larger television, radio, and popular culture movement.

Here are some strategies to keep in mind when planning a campaign aimed at changing habits.

  • Think small.  As Chip Health says in his book Switch:How to Change Things When Change is Hard, "Shrink the change."  In other words, make the change more manageable and within reach.  The more clear, focused, and common sense a message is, the more likely it is to affect change.
  • Empower the individual.  Make it personal -- we love our gadgets and don't just want to throw them away!  
  • Stay POSITIVE!
  • Avoid blame and guilt - no one is motivated to change if they feel they are being accused of something
  • Each campaign would be a multi-pronged approach with both social media elements, traditional marketing (television, radio spots), and links to action in the community.  

Campaign Ideas

Here are a few quick ideas:

E-Organ Donor:  This is a good one to get people's attention.  Here's an example of what this could look like:  A woman sitting at a computer says, "Oh no, my computer is dying!"  The computer dies (shutting down like an old television, with a circular flash of white).  After a moment, the computer spits out an ID card, complete with fun photo, name, and, most importantly, an E-Organ Donor sticker!  Voice/Text says, "Your computer is an e-organ donor.  Take it to the e-waste recycling center and use his parts to help other sick computers."  This campaign would be effective because it touches on the human-like relationship we have with our gadgets (see the Name Your Gadget campaign below) and gives a new framework for thinking of how we dispose of e-waste.  #eOrganDonor

Name Your Gadget:  We interact quite intimately with our gadgets, so this campaign would focus on the sentimental attachment we have for our devices.  We will have a strong social media campaign to promote 'naming' our computers, phones, and other electronics.  This would ring true for many young people, as they associate their devices with their connectivity to their friends and the way they experience the world.  We could play around with the "personality" or quirks of each device.  This would likely be popular among young people, and there could be a school-based arm of implementation.  #MeetMyComputer

Remember, each marketing campaign should end with a solution.  

  • Your computer is an organ donor! Now take it to the e-waste recycling center so its parts can be used to help others in need!
  • We love our computers -- they have pictures and messages from our friends on them!  Don't just throw them in the trash!  Bring it to the "E-Waste Not" booth on Saturdays to see how you can give your old buddy a new lease on life.
  • We support extensive partnership.  The campaign should partner with companies and organizations to develop products and programs that support the campaign message. For example, a company like Crumpler could design and promote a line of 'named' backpacks, laptop bags or accessories. The opportunities to partner with NGOs and community-based programs is endless!  


While my team and I have thrown out a few suggestions, we believe this strategy is strongest if combined with another concept.  The content of the marketing campaign would depend on its sister concept.  For example, it would be fantastic to combine this concept with T. Annie Nguyen's Take It Back program or Carol Shu's inventive Farmer's Market "E-Waste Not" Booth concept.  The marketing strategy would reinforce and promote either program.  Taking another tack, the E-Cycle Truck could double as mobile billboards!  

Since the implementation of the campaign is a local affair, the message could be tailored to fit the programs already in existence or the informational needs of the community.  This requires excellent communication channels between the federal agency and the local NGO implementing the campaign.  

How does your concept safeguard human health and protect our environment?

By creating a targeted and powerful marketing campaign, we are spreading knowledge and empowering individuals with solutions to the problem of e-waste. Most people don't know what to do with their old electronics and gadgets -- this campaign would provide actionable information and create a community of people who reuse, reduce, and recycle their e-waste.

Where does your concept fit into the lifecycle of electronic devices?

A campaign could be targeted at several stages in the electronic device's lifecycle. For instance, there could be messages promoting the proper disposal of old electronics or encouraging people to donate their old products to communities in need.

What steps could be taken today to start implementing your concept?

Today, social media is a very powerful tool. It is also one of the most cost-efficient ways to promote a message. TODAY, we could organize a social media movement to get people thinking about their e-waste (this could later be joined by a television, radio, and visual campaigns).

What kinds of resources will be needed to fully implement and scale your concept?

This project could be scaled to fit the resources available. If funding and resources are scarce, the program could rely more heavily on social media, possibly utilizing a social media intern to cut down on costs. However, to truly be effective, the campaign should be comprehensive and approach the problem from several angles (television spots, physical presence at festivals and farmers markets) with social media being only one element. For example, the Designated Driver Campaign communicated and partnered with television writers, actors, and directors in Hollywood to get the message in television and film. This dramatically improved the effectiveness of the campaign because the message became ingrained in popular culture. I suggest a partnership-based implementation scheme, in which the government would have ownership over the project and brand, but would fund and empower local organization to develop and implement local campaign projects. To do this well requires more resources than a one-size-fits-all approach, but we'll get much better results if the message and design is tailored to local populations.

My Virtual Team

Paul Reader Sana Altaf Janet Gunter

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. How much of a social or environmental impact will this concept have on discarded electronics or e-waste?

This concept could have significant social or environmental impact. - 60%

It's unclear how much social or environmental impact this concept will have. - 40%

This concept would have little social or environmental impact. - 0%

2. How well does this concept help you or others understand how electronic items are designed, built, reused, recycled or thrown away?

Very well: it makes the entire electronics life cycle easier to understand. - 80%

Pretty well: it could help people better understand the electronics life cycle but it needs more detail or information. - 20%

Not so well: it does not significantly help people better understand the electronics life cycle. - 0%

3. How appealing do you believe this concept would be to investors (businesses, banks, lenders, venture capitalists and others)?

Very appealing: this is an idea that investors would get excited about. - 40%

Potentially appealing: more work is needed to flesh out how the concept works, what it would cost and who would fund it. - 60%

Not so appealing: this does not seem like a concept that would get investors excited. - 0%

4. How challenging would it be to implement and scale this concept across geographies, cultures and languages? (Hint: think about resources like money, time, partnerships, or other inputs needed for implementation and scaling)

Not very challenging. - 20%

Somewhat challenging. - 80%

Very challenging. - 0%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world. - 80%

I liked it but preferred others. - 20%

It didn't get me overly excited. - 0%

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Great concept! I am looking forward to hear more development about that.

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