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State's anti-litter campaign garners national acclaim

'I'm Not Your Mama!'

In a national award-winning television spot, former First Lady Pat Fordice magically appears in the cab of a pickup truck between two Bubbas, one of which has gleefully tossed trash out the window. Pinching the ears of the driver and his offending pal, Fordice admonishes the pair for littering Mississippi highways.

In another television spot, Fordice, clad in a bright fuchsia dress, stands in the middle of the road with legs spread and clenched fists on her hips while a tow truck stops inches in front of her. The driver, who had tossed out a sandwich wrapper, has a stunned look on his face as Fordice points a finger at him for littering. “I’m Not Your Mama. Pick It Up Mississippi!” reads the tagline.

Both television spots were part of the anti-litter campaign Jackson-based GodwinGroup developed for the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), aimed at changing attitudes and behavior related to littering in Mississippi. Fordice appeared in all four commercials.

“Isn`t Pat Fordice a hoot? She told us she’d do pretty much anything we asked except wear combat boots,” said Cindy White, public relations account representative for GodwinGroup. “In the one where she`s standing in the middle of the road, that`s no tricky camera action. She stood there as the truck came within a few inches of her body. She would have no body doubles. She was very much a trooper and a professional and handled everything we asked her to do remarkably well.”

Todd Ballard, creative officer for GodwinGroup, said once the advertising agency decided to take a humorous approach to the problem rather than use scare tactics or other methods, celebrities ranging from Green Bay Packers star quarterback Brett Favre of Kiln to the former First Lady were considered as the campaign spokesperson. Fordice was selected because she was well known for advocating litter prevention and beautification projects in the state.

“We didn`t think the campaign would take on a life and image of its own,” he said. “Pat Fordice`s strength as an independent person and a persona within the state carried a lot more power and credibility than we anticipated. It was an added benefit. And she was so gracious about the project.”

The MDOT litter prevention public service campaign has been recognized locally, regionally and on a national level, winning the 2004 Public Relations Association of Mississippi (PRAM) PRism award for the best long-term public service campaign, the 2003 Lantern Award in the video category covering a four-state region and a 2003 Rogers Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Keep America Beautiful organization for television public service advertising, beating out the popular “Don`t Mess With Texas” anti-litter campaign. USA Today mentioned the campaign in a Section A story on the nation`s litter problem.

“‘I’m Not Your Mama’ has truly captured the public`s attention, which is an important first step in addressing the serious problem facing our state,” said Kathy Broom, MDOT state anti-litter coordinator. “It is vital to change this negative behavior, as it is detrimental to Mississippi`s environment and economy. In fact, it costs the state more than $2 million annually to remove litter from our highways.

GodwinGroup`s approach is helping us reach 18- to 34-year-old males and children in grades K-3, which research supports as two key audiences.”

The idea for the litter prevention public service campaign took root after MDOT invited a nationwide litter expert to conduct a scientific study for the state in 2000. After analyzing and measuring litter in 104 randomly selected sites, he concluded that Mississippi had a litter rate 30% higher than other states in the nation, and that males ages 18 to 34 were responsible for 75% of deliberate littering and a disproportionate amount of non-deliberate littering. MDOT wanted to reduce litter by 50% within five years.

“Who`s the only person a male that age is going to listen to? Mama! That`s the whole idea of utilizing a matriarch person who demands respect,” said Ballard.

One reason Mississippi`s litter rate is higher than other states could be attributed to the low number of highway miles in the adopt-a-highway program for Keep Mississippi Beautiful, the state affiliate of the Keep America Beautiful program, and a close MDOT partner.

“At the time the study was done, about 20% of Mississippi`s total state highway mileage were in the adopt-a-highway program,” said White. “Some aspects of the adopt program haven`t worked as well in Mississippi as other states because we have such a largely rural state with lots of pickups.”

The five-year campaign was introduced in April 2003, with heavy use of radio public service announcements and limited use of television public service announcements. An excerpt from a hilarious radio spot, in which an announcer “interrupts” a regular broadcast “to bring you the following rant:”

Mama: “Okay, that`s it. You! The person who just threw your stuff out the window. Yeah, I saw ya! And so did a lot of other people. And it`s only a matter of time before the highway patrol sees you doing something like that – and charges you a big, fat fine. You wait!

“Thanks to people like you, Mississippi has a 30% higher litter rate than other states. Louisiana and Alabama? Clean as a whistle, compared to Mississippi. Tennessee and Arkansas? Spotless.

“But you don`t care. You’re throwin’ stuff all over the place like there`s no such thing as a trash can! ‘Oh, look at me! I’m a slob and I don`t care!’ You must be very proud. But if you think I’m gonna pick up after you, think again. I am not your mama!”

This year, the campaign was introduced through other mediums: statewide outdoor and newspaper advertising.

“Tourism is a huge industry, and it really has an impact when the state looks bad with all this roadside litter,” said White. “Outdoor advertising has helped us get the message across to travelers on interstate highways. It also shows our visitors that we care.”

GodwinGroup also developed “Myrtle the Turtle,” an animal caricature with a cast of friends that appear in an eight-minute video and a coloring book aimed primarily at schoolchildren in grades K-3.

Introduced at the Mississippi State Fair last fall, which had an attendance of about 300,000, and in school classrooms by MDOT anti-litter coordinators in January, the children`s campaign “deputizes” children by giving them litter patrol badges at the end of the program.

“We wanted to reach young schoolchildren to affect their behavior early on and to get them to impact their parent`s behavior, sorta like guilting their parents into quitting smoking,” said Lee Ragland of GodwinGroup. “Parents can learn from their kids.”

The campaign budget for the first fiscal year was 25 cents per capita versus 86 cents per capita spent every year on the endless cycle of picking up litter, said White.

“Its effectiveness will be measured in a follow-up study, but I’m not sure when that will take place,” said White. “We’re seeing intangible results, such as comments from people saying they’ve noticed much less litter on the roadside. Kids recognize the badges. The message is getting out.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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