Just as fast as it came, Toronto's acclaimed anti-littering campaign in which discarded name-brand packaging is used as a means of deriding public litterers has been trashed due to concerns over copyright infringement. Mostly, it's because a few major companies were none too pleased with seeing their products being used to spell out words like "selfish" and "dumb."

If you aren’t familiar with the adverts (first spotted at Co.Create) created by agency Publicis Canada for Toronto's Livegreen initiative, they combine the iconic logos of improperly disposed packaging to spell out a few select words. A Life Savers wrapper and an empty packet of Sweet'N Low spell out "lowlife." A trashed box of Reese's Pieces and a crumpled Gatorade bottle reads "pig." Together, Lay's Potato Chips and a discarded Krazy Glue box makes "lazy."

At the bottom of each ad is a tagline that reads: "Littering says a lot about you."


The eye-catching mash-up ads — they briefly appeared plastered on the sides of buses and trolleys, gracing transit shelters and in print in select newspapers — garnered praise for both their cleverness and their telling-it-like-it-is nature.

Not surprisingly, some companies were up in arms over the ads, and not because they necessarily took issue with the anti-littering message.

Speaking to the The Globe and Mail, Jackie DeSouza, the City of Toronto's director of strategic communications, wouldn't specify which companies contacted the city and companied. She did, however, note that: "It really had to do with trademark infringement on some of the products. Concerns were raised by various companies about the use of their trademarks and the potentially damaging effect to their brands."

The city — or the ad agency — did not seek consent from and/or consult with the companies whose highly recognizable packaging appears in the finger-wagging ads before launching the campaign. I’m guessing that even if the city or Publicis Canada had checked in with each company, they still wouldn't have received their full blessings.

Even though they've been promptly yanked from buses, newspapers, and the like, the ads continue to live online — the copyright tussle most likely brought even more attention to the campaign outside of Toronto.

What do you think of the ads? 

Via [Huffington Post], [Globe and Mail]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Toronto yanks brilliant, litterbug-shaming ad campaign
A genius series of ads that chide litterbugs through photos of cleverly positioned rubbish is discontinued due to copyright concerns.