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Recyclebank Seeks to School Consumers on Environment

Written by Stuart Elliot, The New York Times
Published: August 22, 2011

Certain colors have long been associated with the back-to-school season: yellow, for pencils; red, for apples; and black and white, for the marblelike covers of composition books. Now a company is hoping to add green to that list.

The company is Recyclebank, which encourages consumers to become more environmentally conscious by offering them rewards like deals and discounts from brands that include Coca-Cola, Kashi, Macy’s and Ziploc.

Recyclebank, which has 2.7 million members in the United States and Britain, is introducing its first campaign focused on the start of the school year. The centerpiece of the campaign, called the Recyclebank Green Your School Year Challenge, is a contest online, at

The campaign, which began on Wednesday, is to continue through Sept. 30. It is the first campaign for Recyclebank being created by Blue State Digital in Washington, which is the new digital agency of record for the company.

The interactive experience at is divided into three sections: back-to-school shopping, the first day of school and after-school activities. Right now, it is shopping time, reflecting the real-world calendar.

The shopping section has seven parts, each taking place at a different time from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For instance, at 11 a.m. it is time to compile the back-to-school shopping list. “Pledge to fill your shopping list with organic, recycled or recyclable products,” the screen prompts.

At noon, in the school supplies aisle of a store, there are two quizzes to take.

And at 2 p.m., in a store’s dressing room, visitors are encouraged to check out “six ways to green your T-shirt.”

Members of Recyclebank who visit the Web site can accumulate points for answering quiz questions, pledging to take eco-friendly actions, learning how to help the environment and referring friends to Recyclebank.

Bonus points are offered for ecological tips that visitors to can submit as they take part in the challenge.

The prizes in the contest include a grand-prize package valued at $7,500 that contains, among other goodies, a Bodhi electric bicycle and a $2,500 gift card for Macy’s.

Although the campaign is aimed primarily at mothers of school-age children, it has a family orientation, encouraging both parents and pupils to take green steps such as recycling old computers.

The main target audience is someone “we call the ‘eco-conscious mom,’ ” says Javier Flaim, senior vice president for global marketing at Recyclebank in New York.

“We believe in giving her everyday tips, actions she can take, to lead a more sustainable life,” he adds.

And to make it easier for that to happen, “we believe in incentivizing her,” Mr. Flaim says.

“There is a social and emotional bond when members interact with each other and get badges and points,” he adds.

The Green Your School Year Challenge is part of a series of efforts that Recyclebank refers to as “gaming for good,” Mr. Flaim says. It is the third this year.

Mr. Flaim describes the budget for each campaign as “generally, under $100,000,” for “creative development and execution.”

The first initiative, which took place during Earth Month, April, was the Green Your Home Challenge. The second, which ran from June 22 to July 31, was the Green Your Vacation Challenge.

Recyclebank said it was pleased with the results from the first two contests. At the end of the home challenge there were gains in measures like unique visitors, new visitors, new registrations and friend referrals.

And after the vacation challenge, there were increases in the time spent on the Web site, the number of referrals and new registrations.

The first two contests were developed by Gravity, a digital agency in New York.

Although “we were very happy with the work,” Mr. Flaim said, Recyclebank wanted “a digital agency for all the digital assets” of the company, including mobile and social media.

“Blue State Digital fit the bill perfectly,” he added.

The school challenge is featured on the Recyclebank page on Facebook, at, and is being promoted on the Recyclebank feed on Twitter, at

Recyclebank has “very aggressive growth goals,” says Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at the New York office of Blue State Digital, part of the WPP Digital division of WPP.

Blue State Digital is working with Recyclebank in this country, he adds, and in Britain.

WPP acquired Blue State Digital in December as part of its plans to expand further in the growing field of interactive advertising and marketing.

And in one of those small-world coincidences, Mr. Gensemer says he knew Jonathan K. Hsu, the chief executive of Recyclebank, “before his days at WPP.” Mr. Hsu joined Recyclebank in July 2010 after serving as chief executive of the 24/7 Real Media unit of WPP.

If the name Blue State Digital sounds familiar, it is because of the agency’s work on Obama for America, helping Barack Obama be elected president in 2008.

Blue State Digital still does “quite a bit of work in public affairs, politics and nonprofits” in addition to its assignments for marketers, Mr. Gensemer says.

“Our pitch when we talk to commercial clients is that people are looking for brand advocacy,” he adds.

And when it comes to “building a long-standing relationship with people,” Mr. Gensemer says, “the ‘like’ is the first step in the relationship.”

His reference is, of course, to the fan pages on for brands and products that prompt visitors to “like” them.

Liking a commercial entity in social media “is like signing up for an e-mail list for a candidate,” Mr. Gensemer says. “How do you deepen the relationship?”

Among the other marketer clients of Blue State Digital are the Ford Motor Company, which is a major client of WPP’s; the Condé Nast Publications unit of Advance Publications; and the Anschutz Entertainment Group, for its campaign to bring a National Football League team back to Los Angeles.

You can also read this article over at The New York Times.

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