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29 . 03 . 18

Thames Water: How DM is fighting fatbergs

Words by: Print Power
The ‘Bin it - don’t block it’ campaign has forced Londoners to face some disgusting home truths – and helped solve a £12m-a-year problem
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At a glance:

  • Direct mail allowed creative agency 23red to deliver a series of targeted messages, relevant to customers and the areas in which they lived
  • The print component of the integrated campaign created a powerful sensory experience – and helped to make the problem personal
  • 70 per cent of residents have changed their behaviour when getting rid of cooking fat or wet wipes

“We were fortunate to deal with something quite this disgusting.”

This frank admission by the founding partner and creative director of 23red, Sean Kinmont – referencing the agency’s recent work for Thames Water – says a lot about his enthusiasm for an integrated brief and generally low-interest category some might consider… well, a bit of a stinker.

Customers of the UK utility, it seems, were disposing all manner of nasty things down their drains – oblivious to the eventual blockages and financial harm they caused.

“When the client found that as many as 55,000 homes a year in the London and Thames Valley catchments were suffering from blockages, they asked us to help them fix the £12m-a-year problem,” Kinmont explains.

“We know that it can be very difficult and very expensive to get people to re-evaluate how they think about this sort of thing,” says Kinmont. “But, from a behaviour point of view, we understood that dumping stuff down your sink probably just means: ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’”

So, the agency chose to turn the popular model of behaviour change – that you need to alter how people think, feel and do, in that order – on its head and start by focusing on the ‘do’ instead.

“That was the strategy,” Kinmont reveals. “To raise awareness of the issues, and directly link people’s actions to their consequences.”

In practice, this meant a full-frontal assault on the senses – called ‘Bin it - don’t block it’ and delivered across direct mail, digital display, online video, social media and billboards – that dragged the issue, in all its visceral repulsiveness, into the light.

For Kinmont, print was the perfect platform on which to play dirty.

“Thames Water’s data showed which areas were most at-risk of flooding based on previous incidents. We then sent targeted comms educating on fat first before following up with wet wipes – the two main causes of blockages that lead to sewage coming back up into people’s homes.”

Direct mail, says Kinmont, allowed 23red to create a series of messages, directly relevant to customers and the areas in which they lived.

The mailers were sent to more than 225,000 households in high-risk areas – and included helpful information, plus a free fat-trap to aid in the correct disposal of cooking fat.

A simple, powerful piece of print with a single-minded idea can be highly engaging, and have real cut-through
Sean Kinmont
creative director, 23red

“We wanted to get the ‘Yuck!’ factor into our direct mail,” Kinmont adds. “To give that sense that the fat was coming home – that Thames Water had returned it.”

One of its first mailings featured a gruesome front cover photograph of a fatberg, brought to life through a creative use of prints, inks and varnishes. It felt slimy – nasty, even.

“And that’s where print can work so well,” reckons Kinmont. “The sensory experience is brilliant.”

But it also connected what customers had glimpsed on the high street to their doorstep, he says. “When you see a six or 48-sheet advert on the high-street, there’s still that disjoint between you – the audience – and the message.”

“What made the difference with our campaign was discovering the same message you’d already seen on a huge billboard lying on your doormat. The targeted communications really brought the issue, and the personal consequences, home. They said: ‘You’re a part of this problem. But you can be a part of the solution too.’”

While it can often be quite difficult to compete online, Kinmont concedes: “A simple, powerful piece of print with a single-minded idea can be highly engaging, and have real cut-through. It not only helps to focus your campaign – it also builds that crucial link between different media.”

For Thames Water, the results have been phenomenal. When it comes to getting rid of cooking fat or wet wipes, 70 per cent of residents say they’ve changed their behaviour, while the utility has seen, on average, a 26 per cent reduction in sewer blockages in targeted areas.

Interested in brands that have harnessed the sensory power of direct mail? Sign up to our newsletter for more inspiration. 

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