Conservation Corner: Plug-a-Leak Week (and other gimmicks)



Have you ever issued a press release on an issue you believed was important only to have it ignored by the media? Perhaps next time you could use a good gimmick. May 16-22 was Plug-a-Leak Week in Kelowna: a seven-day blitz to educate residential and commercial customers on the importance of finding and fixing leaks.

Neal klassen (120p)As far as events go, Plug-a-Leak Week was not on the same level as, say, the 2010 Winter Olympics, but fixing leaky taps and toilets is important enough to warrant some attention. The challenge was how to get the local media interested in an event that was not exactly front page news?

We decided to kick off the week with a gimmick. Students dressed as plumbers and, armed with plungers and handouts, hit the streets in the downtown core. They stopped at every business and office offering to inspect toilets and taps for leaks.

These pseudo-plumbers also stopped people on the street and encouraged them to report any leaks they saw in public places. People were given gift certificates if they reported a bona fide leak.

We ended up getting decent media coverage. The story was picked up by the local television station, both local newspapers, and most of the local radio stations.

It was the visual aspect that made the story appealing for the media. We had youth, enthusiasm and a semi-environmental issue, all of which combined to make an interesting picture.

The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” has been attributed to Confucius, who lived almost 2,500 years ago. These days, given inflation and media saturation, a picture is probably worth over 10,000 words. That is why most successful promotions – all of which are nothing more than gimmicks – tend to have some form of visual appeal.

In past columns, I have written about Denver Water’s brilliant ‘Stop a Running Toilet’ campaign. If you have not heard of it, you should Google it. This promotion has tremendous visual appeal.

On, there is an annual contest that encourages people to send in water conservation-related photographs. If you look in their photo gallery, you will see some interesting and creative interpretations of Australia’s current water situation. This is more visual appeal.

In the US last year, Kohler launched a promotion where it gives $1worth of water conservation products to Habitat for Humanity for every person who fills out a quiz on This promotion may not have the same visual appeal as others, but the appeal is nonetheless apparent. To date, the company has donated more than $1.5 million worth of product.

Some people do not like gimmicks because they are, well, gimmicky. Gimmicks can also backfire if you are not careful. A few years ago, General Motors launched an online promotion where people could create their own TV commercials for the Chevy Tahoe on a special website. Soon, anti-SUV ads started popping up, embarrassing the  company, which decided to leave the negative ads online rather than create a storm of controversy by removing them.

Generally though, if your aims are sincere, there is nothing wrong with a good gimmick every now and then to get your message out. People usually recognize and appreciate them for what they are – a creative way to draw attention to something that might otherwise be ignored.


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor

Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).


Posted July 2010