Conservation Corner: Denver Water – A model for water conservation promotions


Watermark - winter 2009 - cover (360p)

I used to work in an advertising agency, so, when I stepped into the world of water conservation, I thought it was going to be a breeze. If I had the skills to convince Neal klassen (120p)people to buy things they did not need and could not afford, convincing people to reduce their water use would be a piece of cake, right?

Well, it did not turn out to be that easy. One thing I learned real fast is that selling retail products through advertising is not the same as facilitating behaviour change.

That is not to say I do not believe in advertising and promotion for water conservation programs. It is just that the approach has to be different. One organization that understands that a different approach is needed is Denver Water.

Denver Water knows what it takes to get its message across in today’s media saturated world. Its ‘Use Only What You Need’ campaign is sheer brilliance. If you search ‘use only what you need’ in Google Images, you will see several examples of the outdoor advertising promotion.

Notice that the advertisement on the bench does not contain a single water conservation tip. Studies show that most Photo courtesy of Denver Water people already know how to save water; a successful water conservation promotion just encourages people to put into practise what they already know.

Denver Water also has a character named Johnny Flush and he is… well, he is a toilet with legs. And he runs. He runs down Denver’s busy streets. He runs at special events. On You Tube, you will find several videos of the Running Toilet racing across the field at Colorado State Football games (all staged, of course). He is tackled by an official and then the announcer says, “The Colorado Rapids and Denver Water want you to stop running toilets. Please remember to conserve and use only what you need.”

This is one way to stop a running toilet.

This promotion is so clever, and so simple, that I kick myself for not coming up with it first. The thing to remember about this kind of promotion is that it has to be backed up by something of substance. The advertising is designed to get attention, but attention alone will not generate results. Denver Water’s ‘Use Only What You Need’ promotion is backed up with incentive programs, rebates, the ‘Water Sense’ labelling program, and many other conservation tools.

I began this column saying that my skills from retail advertising were not really transferable to promoting water conservation, but that is not entirely true. The one skill that is most important in any kind of advertising and promotion iscreativity. This is a skill that almost everyone has, if we are afraid not to use it.


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor

Originally published in the Winter 2009 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).


Posted January 2010