A witty solution to a giant problem
When the editor of Creative Moment reached out and asked me to write about a piece of work that I admired that I hadn't made myself, I immediately knew the one: Corona's Plastic Fishing Tournament.
It's one of my favourite ideas from last year—a witty solution to a giant problem.
In Cannes, it won three gold lions, one silver and one bronze, all under different juries: Brand Experience & Activation, Outdoor, Sustainable Development Goals, Direct. It was even shortlisted for Titanium. In D&AD, it won three pencils: yellow and graphite in Experiential and another graphite in Media.
I'm mentioning all these awards because, clearly, dozens of smart people in different rooms had the same visceral reaction to this case as I did: what a beautiful, clever idea.
You take a challenging problem (endless plastic in our oceans), you find an existing infrastructure (fishing communities around the world) and you create a brilliant incentive for people to clean up the plastic from the ocean (competition and additional income).
How amazing is that?
CNN loved it, National Geographic loved it, Fox News loved it. And I did, too.
I'll be honest, my knowledge about the challenges of tackling plastic pollution is superficial at best. I watched several Netflix documentaries, taught myself not to throw cling film in the recycling bin, stopped buying Coca-Cola in 0.5-litre bottles and called myself a good citizen.
So before writing up this piece, I shared the case study with a couple of friends who specialise in sustainability, one of whom works with plastic. I wanted to get some estimate of how effective this campaign would be because the one thing the case study didn't mention was long-term results.
Their response made me pause. At first, I wanted to reconsider my choice of a case, but then I realised that it would be better to still write about it, in the hope of sparking a long overdue discussion.
I won’t repeat their words on why advertising campaigns focusing on plastic clean-up are a terrible idea — there are lots of articles about it.
The truth is we simply can’t clean our way out of plastic pollution — and campaigns like this lull us into believing we can.
I knew it already, having watched that Netflix documentary (Seaspiracy) and yet, I was seduced by the clever concept.
Turns out, the main environmental problem of the alcohol industry has nothing to do with plastic - it’s water and energy consumption.
The beer manufacturing industry is extremely water-intensive. On average, it takes ninety litres of water to produce a litre of beer. AB InBev is doing much better than most, they are at the forefront of sustainable transformation and they have a whole range of commitments that will hopefully make the world a better place — after global industrial manufacturers have collectively made it a worse place.
On its website, it states an ambitious goal: "100% of our communities in high-stress areas will have measurably improved water availability and quality by 2025”. It’s a commendable goal, but when you become aware of this problem, the case study strikes a different chord.
In Israel, the Plastic Fishing Tournament helped clean 2.7 tonnes of plastic in one day (what about all the other days?). Israel has the second-worst water stress in the world. Mexico cleaned 8.6 tonnes of plastic in two days (lasted one more day than Israel?). Only 58% of Mexico’s population has daily access to running water, and approximately 6 million people have no access to potable water. AB InBev’s business in Mexico, "delivered growth in 2022, led by Modelo, Pacífico, and Michelob ULTRA brands”. A growing brewing business in a water-stressed country. Sounds sustainable.
Corona has nothing to do with plastic, its beer is sold in glass bottles with aluminium lids. Corona has everything to do with water-stressed countries remaining water-stressed.
Why on earth are they running a plastic fishing tournament (was it one day or two days?) instead of solving the problem they are immediately contributing to — not by 2025, but right now? And why are we awarding them a Gold Lion in Sustainable Development Goals for it?
I love this idea. It’s clever, it’s catchy and it’s highly PR’able.
I can absolutely see myself sitting on one of those juries in Cannes, D&AD, or One Show, watching the beautiful case study over and over again, seeing nothing wrong with it and raising my hand to vote for a gold—and that’s terrifying.
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