If some parts of the media are to be believed, the word
“teenager” is synonomous with “thug”. Because, the story goes, kids
today have sunk into a moral malaise that has them binge drinking,
drug taking and glorifying in the title of “yob.”
And when it comes to littering, the bare facts support these
assertions because Britain’s teens not only drop the most
rubbish – they feel absolutely no guilt about doing it, either.
Before we at the Keep Britain Tidy charity joined the growing
band of youth bashers however, we decided to speak to them and find
out why this was. We came to a startling conclusion: kids’
bad behaviour has a lot to do with us adults.
Put simply, when it comes to teens, we want them to be mature –
while constantly reminding them that they’re not. In fact,
the entire teenage world is full of contradictions, not least that
they are punished for littering by teachers and parents who then
drop rubbish themselves. They are bombarded with advertising about
what to wear and what to eat but receive very few relevant messages
about doing the right thing. Stuck in a void between childhood and
adulthood, they are left confused and this is reflected sometimes
in their behaviour.
When it comes to marketing messages to teens, we need to stop
preaching, put aside our adult perceptions of how it is to be young
and try to understand the culture, humour and problems teenagers
encounter today. To do this, we turned to the world of advertising,
where 13 to 16-year-olds have been divided into different segments
and then had messages market-tested on them.
The young people were grouped into four categories, namely: “I
Don’t Want To Be A Geek”, impressionable teenagers who only
litter when with others; “Chat, Chat, Munch, Munch” – girls who
were more interested in catching up with the latest gossip than
using a bin; “I’m Hard, I’m Cool” – boys out to impress
their peers; and “Blame It On The Bins” – those who weren’t
going to use a bin unless it was right under their nose.
Formulating messages that make these groups reassess their
behaviour is difficult. A good starting point, according to the
advertisers, is to use irony. Consequently, we’re developing
a campaign using retro images that dramatically overplay the result
of using a bin – even suggesting it might improve your
For a charity that has campaigned for 50 years on litter, this
is a new and radical approach. But we’re convinced that by
being more sophisticated and by better targeting we will succeed
and if it works for us then we’re determined to share that
experience with others – and consign the image of the teenage
tearaway to the dustbin, forever.
Alan Woods is chief executive of Keep Britain