In this environmental age, portrayals of littering should be an absolute no-no in advertising. Unfortunately, advertisers pay far less attention to the hot-button topic of litter than this multi-billion dollar global problem deserves.
In fact, most advertising is unrealistically clean. You won’t see roadside litter in a car commercial, plastic litter in a travel ad or trash bins in advertising for chewing gum. There’s a disconnection between the product being promoted and the waste associated with it, unless you’re marketing garbage bags.
We see nymphs skipping down to the beach, portable lattes and smoothies in hand. Hikers in the forest clutch their disposable coffee cups and picnickers and fast food and beverage partakers enjoy their meals with never a recycling container in sight.
‘Recycling’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘zero waste’ are today’s popular corporate buzzwords. Frankly, corporations fall down on their responsibility to address their product litter. Sometimes they slip up. The recent TV image of a disavowing smoker using a school stair instead of an ash receptacle to extinguish the cigarette butt inadvertently promotes littering. Plastic bottles strung along a beach sell us a water filter. Animated lottery tickets for a prominent charity float from the sky, littering a winding highway below. These images are gratuitous.
A particularly egregious example: the long-running Brita water filter commercial showing a trail of plastic bottles floating surf-side as far as the eye can see is a blatant extortion of littering as a means to corporate gain. It's as though Brita makers had never heard of beach litter and marine litter. I believe that anytime littering is portrayed it should be accompanied by the right call to action with writing on the screen. 'Buy our product, please don't litter', for example. A universal litter prevention icon on every ad from producers, most of whom dodge, weave and contort, will do anything to steer clear of their products' litter problems.
Creative departments and agency leaders could do a world of good by screening ads to omit acts of littering. Corporations who hire them would serve society well by flexing the power of their advertising muscle to drive a generic campaign around litter prevention.