At the beginning of November 2020, Didi, a Chinese low-fare ride-share provider entered the New Zealand market. What at first seemed as a brilliant brand activation idea, it turned into a great reminder why we should be putting the environment first when thinking of innovative marketing campaigns.
Didi brand activation
The brand activation was about installing Covid-19 protective screens behind a driver’s seat, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other viruses from passengers seating on the back seats to the driver. The brand activation idea was brilliant. The execution though was environmentally devastating (I’d say environmentally unfriendly, but I think we are at the point when we could and should use the words with the most impact when it comes to the environment and its protection).
Why I think the brand activation was brilliant? Didi uses pretty much the same drivers as Uber and Ola. To get these (and other) drivers on board the new rideshare service provider, Didi offered them a free installation of Covid-19 protection screens. In these days, everyone prefers to be more protected than less, and rightfully so. Rideshare drivers are among the most exposed, so I think the idea for the protection screens is great.
It’s also a very clever marketing move. Everyone who catches a ride through Uber or Ola will see the Didi branded screen. Didi coupled the branding with offers of substantial discounts for downloading the Didi app and booking first rides. Any further marketing is hardly needed.
It all sounds brilliant if it wasn’t for tons of plastic and plastic waste involved.
Plastic, and then some more plastic
The screens were namely made of corflutes. According to Google, corflute is the industry name for corrugated polypropylene, a fluted plastic which is lightweight yet rigid. The screen itself is large enough to fit right behind the front car seats and to separate the back part of the car from the driver’s area. There is a see-through plastic screen in the middle of the corflute, so people at the back can see forward and vice versa.
The screens are semi-permanent. I can see them last for a while, if the driver will not be removing them very often, nor moving the front seats forwards and backwards, up and down. I don’t think these corflutes would survive too much movement. I might be wrong though, and it would be interesting to see how many drivers still have them after a month (we installed at least 500 of them). But nevertheless, they are not permanent or long-term solution so all this plastic will sooner or later end up as waste.
Furthermore, each screen came with extra corflute bits and plastic film-wrap that all stayed behind after the screen had been installed. All these plastic went straight to landfill. Namely, many recycling facilities cannot take corflute plastic. This is because the recycling process for corflutes is different from the majority of standard packaging plastics, and most recycling facilities are not set up for the required process.
Putting the environment first
As much as I understand the marketing needs and am very excited when I come across innovative marketing campaigns, I strongly believe that we all have a responsibility to think sustainably. Financial, social and environmental risk, obligations and opportunities should be on top of the mind of every person within an organisation, marketers included! So next time we come up with a brilliant marketing solution, let’s look at it through an environmental lense as well. Does it still sounds good? Go ahead! If not, can you tweak it or adjust it so it will be environmentally acceptable? If still not, keep thinking!