Thinking Green: Poetic Cleanup

The City of Philadelphia Recycling Office’s largest-ever anti-litter campaign consists solely of the spoken word compositions and performances of five Philly street poets, each accompanied by either congas, acoustic bass, or saxophone. The campaign is the work of advertising agency LevLane, and is part of a city-wide neighborhood improvement initiative by Mayor Michael Nutter. The poetry performances were chosen for power, not prettiness. The campaign’s ad media executions of television ads and transit posters. It also includes street poetry events, Facebook and Twitter presences, signage-designated “Litter Free School Zones,” and block-by-block community mobilization drives. Credits include CCO Bruce Lev, CD Deb Racano, Executrive AD Lori Miller, Copywriter Jerry Selber, Print Production Anna Taylor.

At Your Disposal

April 26, 2010
By Amanda Smith-Teutsch
City of Philadelphia uses street poets to convey anti-littering campaign

Instead of preaching on the wickedness of littering, leaders in the city of Philadelphia think they´ve hit on a new way to get people to think twice about tossing cigarette butts and soda bottles out the car window.

“Our challenge was to raise awareness of the city´s litter problem at the street level to effect change,” said Scott Tattar, of LevLane, the advertising firm conducting the anti-littering campaign for the city.

The campaign´s organizers started with a series of focus groups to see what kind of message would be best received by city residents, Tattar said.

“What we gleaned from that focus group is that people don´t want to be dictated to,” he said. “They wanted to be spoken to by their peers. They ¼didn´t want ´Big Government´ pointing the finger at them saying, ´You better not litter.´ ”

What resulted was the “Un Litter Us” campaign, which takes the spoken-word compositions of five Philadelphia street poets, accompanied by congas, acoustic bass or saxophone.

The artists — Denice Frohman, Gregory Corbin, Steve Annan, Whitney Peyton and Carlo Campbell — currently have radio spots and 30- and 60-second videos on YouTube, which also appear on Philadelphia television.

“The city has a heartbeat,” says Corbin in the first video on the YouTube channel. “With broken glass, cigarette butts, plastic wrappers clogging its arteries. The city has a heartbeat, with smokestack lungs, trash dancing on its tongue. The city has a heartbeat, and it´s waiting for you to provide hope, to become change, to become litter free. The city has a heartbeat, and it´s waiting for you to come clean.”

The five artists featured in the campaign were among 100 street poets who auditioned for the agency and were chosen for their sentiments and performances.

The campaign, which also includes transit posters, was the idea of Mayor Michael Nutter and his citywide neighborhood improvement initiatives, Tattar said.

The campaign also will include street poetry events, Facebook and Twitter presences, “Litter Free School Zones,” and block-by-block community mobilization drives.

“It has had a phenomenal reception in every corner of the city,” Tattar said. “The hip-hop community, the artists community, to the actual residents.”

Tattar said he credits the public announcements with increasing participation in the city´s spring cleanup program, nearly doubling participation from 120 to 234 neighborhood projects.

The appeal, he said, is the approach.

“Most public, government campaigns make the mistake of being preachy,” Tattar said. “This avoids that in every way. It´s real people speaking real words, and it eliminates the preachy potential.”

Philadelphia-based LevLane is a marketing communications agency whose clients include regional KFC/Taco Bell, Beneficial Bank, The Philadelphia Center City District and Reliance Standard Life Insurance.

To view the videos, visit

Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Amanda Smith-Teutsch at 330-865-6166 or