We’ve all been there. You’re walking down the street, the sun’s shining, the birds are singing and your heart is high. And then you feel it – a soft sensation that hits you as hard as a sledgehammer. There’s a second when you don’t want to look down, when denial seems like the best form of defence. But then the shoulders inevitably sag and resigned eyes drift downwards to discover a perfectly moulded imprint of the sole of your shoe. Perfect in every respect except its colour – the bottom of your shoe isn’t brown. Well, it wasn’t until a moment ago.
The following five minutes are spent practising a Michael Jackson moonwalk over the nearest stretch of grass to clear your sole of the latest “dog decoration”. There’s no escaping it, people – it’s dog shit but, as the saying goes, “shit happens”. Well, it did until EnCams got on the case.
EnCams is the registered charity formerly known as the Tidy Britain Group. With a head office in Wigan and 140 staff scattered throughout the nation, EnCams is fighting to clean up the mindsets of the litter louts and encourage a more frugal approach to producing waste. Its latest campaign pulled no punches in hitting home with some sickening images of dog dirt, aimed at encouraging people to be more responsible about cleaning up after “man’s best friend”. It was certainly crude but, according to EnCams marketing director Sue Nelson, more importantly, it worked.
“We’ve got figures in following the campaign that show a decrease in dog fouling ranging from 19 to 71 per cent. The overall average decrease is around 40 per cent – which is a phenomenal result.”
Particularly when you consider that the budget for the national six-sheet poster campaign was only £100,000 – micro marketing bucks by today’s macro standards.
However, with an in-house PR drive and help from Ricky Tomlinson (who launched the activity sitting on a toilet on “Crapham” Common), EnCams managed to get press coverage valuing almost £1m, as well as numerous plugs on TV and radio. Not all the feedback was entirely complimentary, but it did propel the issue firmly onto the public agenda.
“We did have a few complaints,” admitted Nelson with a slightly exasperated tone, “but, I mean, that is the stuff, that is the problem. What should we do instead? Show a picture of flowers or pot pouri or something? Yes, it does look bad, but it’s nowhere near as bad as treading in it or having one of your kids falling in it.”
Here she’s alluding to the threat of Toxocariasis, the nasty infection harboured by the roundworm Toxocara, which carries with it the threat of causing blindness and poses a particular danger to young innocents at play. A single dog “mess” can contain approximately one million microscopic worm eggs and, considering that our digestively supercharged canine chums produce 1,000 tonnes of faeces every day in the UK, you get the message that, well, that’s a hell of a lot of bloody eggs.
“Most people are aware of the problems and know that something needs to be done,” she added. “In the end we did get a lot of public support and only two councils out of the 243 approached had any objections.”
The campaign did, however, have a few hazards that needed to be sidestepped on its path to success. The ASA passed the ads with nothing more than an upturned nose and a raised eyebrow, but that didn’t stop EnCams’ preferred outdoor partner from expressing more than mild concerns.
“The biggest problem we had was Adshel. We told them what we were doing and offered to send them some examples beforehand so they could see them, but they said there wouldn’t be a problem. Then when we actually sent them out to be posted they had one look at them and said they wouldn’t put them up.” At which point, says Nelson, the marketing team almost did the thing that they’re trying to stop four-legged offenders from doing.
“Basically we shit ourselves,” she laughs, “but they did go up once we’d justified the ads and assured them of the support we had.” Support that, incidentally, turned out to be near universal, with the exception of an unnamed kebab shop proprietor:
“This poor guy had one of the posters outside his shop. I mean, would you go and buy a kebab with that there? He asked us to take it down and we did. We’d always deal with that sort of thing if it was affecting someone’s business.”
Nevertheless, Nelson and her deputy, marketing manager Ginette Unsworth, are unrepentant over the use of the gut-churning imagery and both advocate the use of “hard-hitting” tactics. As the partners in grime stress, it’s all about results.
“We have a marketing budget that totals less than a million pounds, which is peanuts,” says Nelson. “That’s not an advertising budget, that’s everything – from the printing of our publications to the internet. We need to punch above our weight and get real leverage to achieve our objectives, and that’s what we intend to do.
“We’re starting to get a reputation for quality and producing results and, hopefully, that’ll attract more money. We conducted a clothes-recycling campaign at the start of the year and recycling went up 24 per cent – that’s a stunning result. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of articles that would have otherwise gone to landfill sites. Now, if we can prove that sort of effectiveness to the government and other parties, then if they want to see more of the same they can give us more money. It’s a simple equation: more money, more results.”
It’s bizarre to think that an organisation that can make a genuine difference to the living standards of millions operates with a marketing budget completely eclipsed by certain consumer products boasting apocryphal USPs and intangible benefits. It’s bizarre but, as the team concedes, it’s reality. The challenge for EnCams, apart from finding a way of augmenting its budget, lies with identifying the areas that are most worthy of its attention. In a country that has so many litter- and waste-related worries, this cannot be an easy task.
“We put a lot of effort into stacking up our research and targeting the right areas and the right people,” explained Unsworth. “We have something called the ‘Local Environmental Quality Survey’, which is a rolling programme of constant monitoring that gives us a snapshot of the whole country. That way we can determine the main problems, i.e. dog fouling or graffiti, and try to address them with dedicated campaigns.”
With this in mind, the next burst of activity is aimed at growing concerns over the issue of food litter and the way in which it is nurturing the UK’s burgeoning rat population. It’s another emotive issue providing the incumbent agency, Altrincham’s Lake Design, with another chance to turn some stomachs and, hopefully, some sinners into saints.
“We’ve produced a 30-second cinema commercial that launches on 1 August. It’ll be running across all UCG, Showcase and Warner Brothers cinemas alongside Men in Black 2, as that should hit our target audience. We’ve spent more on the production than originally planned, but we wanted it to be dark, atmospheric and hard-hitting. It’s quite sinister really.”
And, as Unsworth went on to explain, it has good cause to be. The rat population is now becoming a major concern, particularly in urban areas, where the vermin gorge themselves on discarded foodstuffs. This includes such ostensibly “harmless” culprits like banana skins and apple cores – items that the public doesn’t seem to regard as litter.
I agreed with this sentiment, explaining how, on occasion, I’ve winged the odd apple core out of my car window at passers-by. A confession that is not met with a smile. “It takes almost two years for one of those to decompose,” chastised Unsworth. “Oh,” I replied, shamefully looking down to consider how I’d put my foot in it yet again (prolonged efforts at verbal “moonwalking” followed).
If the “rat” campaign has similar seismic effects to the “dog fouling” activity, Nelson, Unsworth and the rest of us will have considerable cause to be happy. With more support and more money the EnCams team could promise more tangible results from further hard-hitting campaigns. They certainly don’t make for easy viewing but, let’s face it, without them we could all be left, quite literally, in the shit.