Cat Memes, Recycling, and Lessons Learned: Our New Year’s Poll Results

At Gigantic, we always try to be creative and light-hearted, so when it came time to send a New Year’s greeting to our email list, we decided to try something a bit different: a greeting with a link to a five-second poll, asking folks to vote on which of the two images (below) they would most likely click:

composting fruitcakeOur greeting was sent to Gigantic’s email list and posted via Facebook and Twitter. We were delighted by the response: a 46% open rate on the email, a whopping 64% click-through rate, 101 poll votes and over a dozen comments on the blog. We know via Analytics that most of the visitors on January 6 (the day we published the poll) were new to our website, and that on average, folks stayed on our site nearly one minute — not bad for a 5-second poll!

Our original intent was to draw attention to the popularity of cat memes  and to suggest that pop culture knows a thing or two about spreading ideas. Well, you surprised us. The winner is … Option A! Receiving 58 percent of the votes, this more serious image showed a stale fruitcake going into a typical organics pail for composting. The adorable kitty, juggling the fruitcake before tossing it in the bin, garnered only 42 percent. This startled us on several counts (we thought the kitty was cute and was the obvious choice for attracting more eyeballs), and as we analyzed the results, we drew several lessons:

Clarity matters. Several comments argued that more specificity was needed in the kitten image, noting that it wasn’t clear that the fruitcake was destined for the bin in Option B. Our text asked two questions: “Which image are you more likely to click?” and then “Which image do you find more memorable and effective for getting out the food scrap recycling message?” In hindsight, we realize that combining “memorable” and “effective” confused the issue. Our intention was to illustrate the importance of getting attention before providing information; our wording needed work. Which leads us to:

Testing matters. Had this been a “real” campaign, we would have spent a lot more time designing our objectives and creating alternative messaging. Ideally we would have run a pilot, testing images, messages and the manner of distribution to match the kind of data we wanted to elicit.

Engagement matters. Before we can deliver any message, we have to cut through the “noise” and get attention. The volume of response, via email opens, click-throughs, and blog comments, far outran previous e-blasts to our clients. Frankly, this was one of our goals: to test how and if we could stand out amid the dozens of emailed New Year’s greetings. We focused on a short, punchy subject line that emphasized a time-limited response and a request for assistance (“help our research by taking this 5-second survey”). This probably aided our open and click-through rates.

Once we drew visitors to the blog post, we included the kitten picture as a way of drawing the eye, because we know the best messaging in the world won’t get through if we can’t attract attention. While the image in Option A may have been more clear, we note that much of the reaction centered around the kitten. Does this mean we’re suggesting that everyone should use kittens in their recycling campaigns from now on? Not at all. But paying attention to what’s “hot” in pop culture could yield some great outreach ideas that might lead to an increased waste diversion rate (or whatever your particular goal is).

As with all campaigns, we resolve to take this learning and build upon it for future efforts. Thanks to all who voted, and may your 2014 be filled with fun and effective green behavior change campaigns, with or without kittens!

Selected comments:

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What’s in a Word? Waste Term Survey Shows Consumer Confusion

OK, we admit it: we’re waste word wonks. But when it comes to encouraging correct recycling behavior, words are the key to deeds.CRRA_screenshot

In our work with client agencies, we’ve noticed that some recycling coordinators and others are discouraged: they’ve been doing outreach for years, and yet they feel it hasn’t worked. Some in the industry are turning to new technologies that divert waste without having to address those elusive behavioral issues. We also observe that the average citizen is presented with different terms and other mixed messages about waste. As a first step to addressing this issue, we conducted a survey to test current understanding of waste terms and processes among Californian adults.

We surveyed Californians up and down the state, testing their understanding of terms like “diversion” and “biodegradable.” We also asked people where they would put various discarded items (e.g., an orange rind or used napkin) when presented with bins having different labeling systems.

While most respondents were clear that soda cans go into the Recycling bin, there was significant confusion on where to put items like potato chip bags, used napkins, and especially plastic forks. No wonder there is a lot of contamination in the waste stream when 70% of respondents think plastic forks should go into the Recycling bin. (They are not recyclable in most jurisdictions.) Some 40% of respondents would put a used napkin in a bin marked Garbage, while only 33% would put it in a bin marked Landfill; over one-third would put a used napkin in Recycling.

The most revealing result of the survey came from a question about how consumers understand what happens in a landfill. Here is the breakdown of responses:

What happens at a Landfill? (choose one)

 Answer Options  Response  Percent
Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there and breaks down. 26.9%
Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there, where it stays forever. 34.5%
Anything that is thrown away, including garbage and recyclables, gets dumped and most of it breaks down. 33.0%
Dirt is dumped to make usable land for building homes, offices, etc. 5.6%

Some 60% of respondents think that most of what goes to Landfill (whether it be Garbage or even Garbage and Recyclables) eventually breaks down. If a person believes that Landfilled objects break down over time anyway, s/he probably has much less incentive to keep things out of Landfill. I mean, it all goes “away,” right? Wrong.  Clearly, there is outreach work to be done.

Results of the survey were presented at this month’s California Resource Recovery Association conference. And we do mean presented: we used a game show format, with Gigantic staff taking the roles of MC and answer socal team with prizeswonks, with Gigantic principal Shana McCracken giving a fine imitation of Vanna White. Environmental professionals from northern California were pitted against three pros from the southern end of the state, in a test to see if industry insiders could guess how the majority of “regular citizens” responded to particular survey questions. Congrats to the winning team from SoCal, pictured right, who captured the coveted Golden Garbage Can award, and many thanks to the good sports on the NorCal team, below.

the NorCal team

If you would like a free copy of the full Waste Terms Survey results, please email us.

The survey is just one step toward achieving Zero Waste in California. Here at Gigantic Idea Studio, we believe more effective research focused on communications and carefully crafted outreach are both part of the answer. We’re not prepared to give up on the human race just yet.

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