Using Humor To Sell Water Conservation


Instead of the guilt approach used by many public service announcements, a new campaign that aims to get Americans to waste less water is employing a character who looks like a refugee from an "SNL" sketch.

The "Wasting Water Is Weird" campaign, from Shelton Group in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program, uses "Rip the Drip" -- a personification of the sort of oddball you wouldn't want to encounter in public, never mind in your bathroom or kitchen.

In three 30-second spots airing on TV in 60-plus markets and on YouTube, "Rip" shows up just at the moment that someone is starting to unthinkingly waste water during an everyday activity. He then provides an "aha" moment by expounding on how much he loves these wasteful activities. (Rip's online back story: He works at a water park and enjoys taking long showers, listening to running faucets and opening fire hydrants.)



In one spot, Rip "weirds out" a woman about to run a dishwasher that's nearly empty; in another, a guy who's letting the faucet run while brushing his teeth, and in the third, a guy who's letting the hose run incessantly while washing his car.

The voiceover message at the end of all three spots: "The moment using water becomes wasting water, it gets weird. Get normal by visiting"

While the humor certainly serves to grab the viewer's attention, the campaign reflects a pragmatic, research-based approach to changing behavior -- in this case, getting Americans to shift from unconscious, water-wasting behaviors to conscious decisions like simply turning off a tap when it's not being used, or taking somewhat shorter showers, says Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group, an agency dedicated to marketing in the sustainability space.

In one of its recent quarterly surveys (representative of the U.S. adult population) on sustainability topics, Shelton Group gave respondents five choices and asked which they would select if they could choose only one. The choices: "be given $1 million"; "ensure the entire world has clean water"; "single-handedly stop global warming"; "save the world's rainforests" or "save the world's endangered species."

While 28% chose the bucks, 35% chose the clean water option (between 9% and 17% chose one of the other options). This and other research shows that the problem is not lack of awareness of the need to conserve water, but lack of action or follow-through, says Shelton.

Indeed, in the same poll, just 6% said they had planted low-water landscaping, 53% that they run the dishwasher only when it's completely full, and 61% that they turn off the water when brushing their teeth. "In general terms, about two-thirds care about water conservation, but only about one-third do anything," Shelton notes.

"Our research shows that you cannot just tell people to stop wasting water or wag your finger at them and try to guilt them into making a change. It doesn't work," she stresses. "This campaign is designed to make people think -- or better yet, cringe -- when they find themselves wasting water."

Shelton Group donated the time/creative for the campaign, and sponsorships by Bosch home appliances, Kohler, Lowe's and Procter & Gamble paid for the production costs, according to Shelton. (WaterSense is an EPA partnership program, similar to its Energy Star program, that encourages individuals and businesses to make choices that save water. WaterSense-labeled products/services have been certified to be at least 20% more efficient, without sacrificing performance.)

Media outlets are donating the time/space for the campaign, which also includes billboards in more than a dozen markets, bus shelters and mall signage in 10 markets, and banner ads on more than 900 sites (including,,,,,,,,,, and major travel and television network sites). Meanwhile, "Rip the Drip" is tweeting/posting on a daily basis on his own Twitter account and Facebook page.

All of the efforts drive consumers to the campaign's site, where social media links, as well as the videos, quizzes about conservation (how much water can be saved through simple actions), Rip's bio info and wallpaper and ringtone downloads, and sponsor information/links can be found.

Shelton says the campaign will likely run at least through the end of the year, and that its success will be gauged by comparing it to the performance metrics both of other PSA campaigns and large-budget, commercial campaigns.

Some results to date? Between Aug. 3 and 25, 73 TV stations reported airing the spots a total of 2,349 times (26 million impressions). Also since Aug. 3, the videos have drawn more than 74,000 views on YouTube, there have been about 27,000 Web site hits, Rip's Facebook page has about 500 likes and 32,000+ posts views, and he has some 250 Twitter followers. Sponsors have also drawn about 1,200 site visits.

1 comment about "Using Humor To Sell Water Conservation ".
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  1. Jessica Flynn from Cal State Northridge, September 19, 2011 at 7:12 p.m.

    Letter To The Editor:

    This was a very insightful editorial that thoroughly analyzes marketing techniques used to target an audience. It seems as though, people today are more wasteful then ever and using humor to connect with your viewers is executed brilliantly by Shelton Group.

    The "Wasting Water Is Weird" campaign, launched by Shelton Group, highlights how every person uses an average of 80-100 gallons of water a day and how we need to minimize and conserve as much water possible. I think Lukovitz executes a thorough and well-written breakdown of how humor is used in marketing the conservation of water.

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