the face of litter ogilvy & matherCould public shame stop people from littering? Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong has pulled a CSI-esque move for their anti-littering ad campaign called The Face of Litter. Launched on Global Earth Day, the unconventional approach for the Hong Kong CleanUp Initiative takes DNA from trash on the ground and uses Snapshot™ DNA phenotyping to generate digital renderings of the perpetrators, who then end up on poster ads around the city and online telling people not to litter.

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the face of litter ogilvy & matherDNA phenotyping is the process of predicting a person’s physical appearance based on their DNA alone. The global marketing communications firm targeted key locations in Hong Kong to collect, analyze and create DNA profiles of litterers. Using the expertise of U.S.-based research centers and advanced Snapshot DNA phenotyping provided by Parabon NanoLabs, the collected data was used to construct a rough snapshot of certain phenotypes, or traits, of the litterer.

the face of litter ogilvy & matherA total of 27 faces were mapped using DNA drawn from the litter as well as three control samples from a volunteer group. Experts used the genetic data from the samples to predict the eye, hair, skin color, and even face shape of offenders. It’s not entirely clear how close the images actually are to the real people who littered, but the ads have an eerily realistic effect nonetheless.

Studying other factors, such as demographics from market research based on the type of litter and where it was collected, they also determined the approximate age of the litterer. People ages 18-34, for example, are more likely to chew gum, so gum samples were given an average age within that range. Discarded cigarettes are more likely to be from people ages 45+, so the portraits end up being slightly older for this type of sample.

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the face of litter ogilvy & matherTo promote the message, Ogilvy installed hi-tech pillories in transit stations all over Hong Kong and online. Ogilvy apparently received permission from every person for the trash they picked up and used, so it’s not exactly unsolicited public shaming. However, the campaign shows that DNA scare tactics could be a real possibility in the future.

A recent global study reveals that China and Indonesia are the top culprits responsible for more than a third of the plastic bottles, bags, and other trash washed out to sea. Each year, Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash, and the penalty for littering in the city is HK$1,500 (or about $200 USD). Almost 4,000 tons (or nearly 8,000,000 pounds) of garbage was collected during a six-week clean-up challenge last year.

The Face of Litter campaign’s promo video demonstrates the extent of the Hong Kong’s litter problem, and how digital technology was used to create the posters. As the video puts it, “Don’t let it be your face.”

Ogilvy & Mather HK – ‘The Face of Litter’ from Work that works on Vimeo.

Photos and video via Ogilvy & Mather HK

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How would you feel if you saw your face on an ad for this campaign?

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