Bottles and Cans Plead to Be Recycled in New Ads for Keep America Beautiful

PSAs from Pereira & O'Dell

Pereira & O'Dell tells stories from the point of view of trash in its new "I Want to Be Recycled" pro-bono campaign for the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful. (No Honey Boo Boo jokes, please.) In one spot, we follow a plastic bottle's long journey from an alleyway garbage can over highways, through forests and down urban thoroughfares until it winds up as part of a bench made from recycled materials that overlooks the sea. Another ad presents a discarded aluminum can that dreams of one day being part of a shiny sports stadium. The bottle and can narrate, and the ads close with the tagline, "Give your garbage another life," ultimately pointing viewers toward

These well-made PSAs are certainly affecting and will probably resonate with many viewers. Still, I wonder if powerful copy like, "They said I couldn't dream. Called me a piece of trash and swore that's all I'd ever be," isn't at least somewhat muted when only bottles and cans are shown on screen. This approach is quirky and memorable and does, in fact, work just fine in the context of the campaign. That said, I don't find it especially compelling, nor does it do much to convince me to recycle. (Can't say I care if your dreams come true, Mr. Can. Frankly, benches and ballparks will be built regardless of whether I recycle. That's not much of an inducement for me to change my behavior.)

The campaign's stories seem human, yet they lack a personal touch. It's tough to empathize with plastic containers and soda cans, no matter how sharp the writing and evocative the visual storytelling. Close-ups of actors looking straight into the camera and reading the lines—"People think I'm trash, but they're wrong"—might have better captured my attention and perhaps taken the premise to the next level. Sure, that set-up would be a bit goofy, but no more so than having the trash itself provide the voiceovers. Shots of narrators intercut with the bottles-and-cans footage might also be more distinctive and riveting. (Check out "I Want to Be a Bench," a 90-second video in which Keep Iowa Beautiful executive director Gerry Schnepf explains the genesis of the campaign and discusses the importance of recycling. This guy's low-key, folksy, matter-of-fact style made me want to start recycling more than the actual commercials did.)

Keep America Beautiful's iconic Iron Eyes Cody anti-pollution spots from the early 1970s were enduring because of their intense humanity and one-to-one connection with viewers. It was never a stretch to see ourselves reflected in those weeping eyes and understand that we all share responsibility for the planet's well-being. "I Want to Be Recycled" appeals to our desire for second chances and rebirth—redemption, if you will, given the items involved—but for me, the can imagery falls flat and the bottle's half empty.


Client: The Ad Council

Vice President, Campaign Director: Rowena Patrick

Campaign Director: Amanda Bagwill

Assistant Campaign Manager: Dana Vielmetti

Client: Keep America Beautiful

Senior Vice President: Lynn Markley

Agency: Pereira & O'Dell

Chief Creative Officer: P.J. Pereira

Executive Creative Director: Jaime Robinson

Associate Creative Director, Copywriter: Eduardo Marques

Associate Creative Director, Art Director: Rafael Rizuto

Copywriters: Ross Cavin, Earl Lee

Art Directors: Chris Adams, Arnau Bosch

Project Manager: Katie Shesgreen

Account Director: Ashley Brown

Account Executive: Jennifer Wantuch

Vice President, Director of Strategy: Nick Chapman

Strategy Director: Justin Cox

Strategist: Alina Shabashevich

Executive Producer: Jeff Ferro

Broadcast Producers: Judy Kreiter, Elisa Moore