Due to rapid population growth over the past 25 years Kerikeri found itself full of crap … literally. Most households still relied on septic tanks or aerated sewerage systems, many had deteriorated soakage fields and run-off from these fields was polluting land and waterways. On top of that, the resource consent given to the community by the government was nearing its expiration date.
But before the Far North District Council (FNDC) could take any steps to rectify these three problems and modernise the system, it had to consult with the ratepayers who would, through rate hikes, ultimately have to foot the bill of a project that was expected to reach costs of around $14 million.
As this was the biggest infrastructure project the Council had ever undertaken, it was integral to get as many people involved in the decision-making process as possible.
The problem, however, was that the Kerikeri ratepayers had in the past been reluctant to contribute to local decisions, and this seemed to be case once again. After publishing their Draft Annual Plan—which contained details about the upgrade to the sewage system—the Council received only 250 submissions, which, despite being the highest ever number, was well below what was deemed necessary to make such an important decision.
The danger of low levels of public contribution in such instances was illustrated only several months earlier, when the Kaipara District Council came under severe public criticism from ratepayers who were unwilling to pay the $25 million that had been invested in the Mangawhai Wastewater Scheme.
Given the parallels between these two cases, the FNDC wanted to avoid pitfalls that had ensnared its neighbours to the south. And while the council couldn’t force all the ratepayers to cast a ballot, it wanted to make sure that no one in the region could claim that they didn’t know about the upcoming vote. And this meant that it had to spread awareness of the election in a way that the Kerikeri population couldn’t help but notice.
To get its message in front of the approximately 6,500 Keriekeri residents, the FNDC took the risk of launching an unconventional—and somewhat controversial—campaign called ‘Let’s talk crap!’
With 14.5 percent of the Kerikeri population aged 65 and older, there was initial concern that use of a mild expletive could offend, and consequently alienate, a large chunk of the voters. Despite this risk, the council stuck by the strategy and rolled out the campaign over four phases, the first of which saw three rustic longdrops being placed in busy public areas. Rather than providing any additional information, Council created a sense of intrigue by simply tagging the old-school loos with the www. letstalkcrap.co.nz web address.
In addition to this, 15 dunny displays—made of old toilet pans planted with flowers—were also installed in high traffic areas such as supermarkets, service station forecourts, and footpaths. And in a bizarre show of appreciation, these displays were regularly stolen throughout the campaign despite being siliconed and bolted down.
The initial part of the campaign immediately resonated with the community by triggering nostalgic memories of the ‘good ol’ days’ when longdrops were commonplace throughout the nation—and, as a result, traffic started streaming to the website. Those who visited the campaign site found highly technical information presented in a conversational tone as well as links to FNDC voting portal.
But the campaign didn’t end there. A week later, FNDC encouraged supermarket customers to vote by placing shelf wobblers on the toilet paper aisles. This push was further consolidated by the emergence of Roley, a toilet roll mascot who, with the help of several assistants, distributed rack cards promoting the online and text voting options. Over the course of the first two weeks of the campaign period, FNDC also handed out 10,000 rolls of toilet paper emblazoned with the web address to members of the community. And the campaign also stretched to the root of the issue, with the placement of letstalkcrap.co.nz posters in all public toilets.
After this very unconventional start, the campaign then took a more traditional turn as FNDC mailed 12-page booklets to all the ratepayers in the third week. This direct marketing was supported by a high-frequency radio campaign as well as Roley, who was now handing out books and physically filling in votes with the public. These initiatives continued into the fourth and fifth weeks of the campaign, and helped to draw attention to the five public meetings that council had hosted.
At the outset of the campaign, the council set the modest target of receiving 250 votes, a number equal to the highest ever response rate in Kerikeri when it came to local issues. Rather than simply being met, the target was smashed. There were 150 online votes, 530 hardcopy responses and 107 text votes bringing the total to an unprecedented 787 votes, more than triple what was expected.
During the longdrop teaser phase of the campaign, there were 823 visits to the website. And this was particularly promising because the website had only been promoted via the displays around the city.
By the end of the campaign, the website was accessed by a total of 1,668 visitors, 23 percent of which visited more than once. And those who did visit the site found the content engaging enough to stay on the site for four minutes and 15 seconds on average. This online interest also spilled across into the real world, with public-meeting attendance swelling from a dismal average of ten people to over 40.
And at a cost of just over $80,000, the campaign illustrated that big budgets aren’t always a prerequisite for marketing success. Sometimes all you need is a simple—and perhaps humorous—idea to catch the attention of the target market.
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