UTS Library

'Old Phones for Chickens': Using PR to encourage mobile phone recycling



PR Company: 

IMPACT Communications Australia

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2010 C12 - 7



Executive Summary: 

In the dying weeks of 2009, IMPACT Communications Australia (IMPACT) was called upon by Australia’s official not-for-profit mobile phone recycling program, MobileMuster, to run a final campaign for the year. The campaign was needed to stimulate sluggish mobile phone recycling collections for the month of December and to capitalise on the Christmas season’s ‘goodwill’.


IMPACT was given a strict budget and less than a fortnight to develop a CSR program that would encourage everyday Australians to recycle their old and broken mobile phones during the busiest time of the year.


IMPACT engaged not-for-profit organisation, Oxfam, to develop ‘Old Phones for Chickens’, a quirky campaign that would see a chicken donated to a family in Laos for every phone recycled before the New Year (capped at the target of 1,000 phones for 1,000 chickens).


‘Old Phone for Chickens’ allowed Australians to positively impact a family living in poverty and benefit the environment without having to put their hand in their pocket. The campaign married an emotional incentive with environmental education and a timely call-to-action.


Within in a three week period more than 112 articles were secured. The campaign also resulted in collections reaching more than double MobileMuster’s target. IMPACT’s initial campaign is now set to become a staple on MobileMuster communications calendar.

Situation Analysis: 

MobileMuster is a not-for-profit program funded by mobile phone manufacturers and network carriers to collect and recycle old and broken mobile phones and accessories. In the final quarter of 2009, collection levels were falling below the monthly average.


In the first week of December, IMPACT was asked to develop a PR campaign that would motivate consumers to recycle their mobile phones before the end of the year. It was critical for the campaign to evoke a sense of urgency to prompt an immediate response from consumers.


It was also recognised that at this time of year, it was important to raise awareness of mobile phone recycling to encourage Australians who received a new mobile for Christmas to send in their old handset and accessories.


Due to the time restraints of the project, IMPACT was limited to targeting short-lead media.


MobileMuster has extensively researched the number of old and broken phones available to be recycled. It discovered Australians are hoarding between 14 and 16 million unused handsets, batteries and accessories.


Further research undertaken, and put into practice, by MobileMuster has found individuals are motivated by socially-responsible campaigns and incentives. Put simply, Australians are more likely to recycle their old mobile to gain a benefit for themselves or the overall community, which is additional to the environmental benefits of recycling.


With this in mind, IMPACT recognised a need to link mobile phone recycling to a CSR program to create an emotive incentive in the pre-Christmas period.


Christmas is a very ‘noisy’ period in the media, especially for charities and goodwill initiatives. IMPACT undertook a media survey to determine what incentive should be promoted. It revealed the environmental campaign needed to offer a quirky news angle to gain cut-through in the pre-Christmas period, when ‘goodwill’ dominates the news.

Target Policies: 

Target publics fell into two groups: mobile phone owners and media.


1.    Mobile phone owners


In Australia, there are 24 million mobile phone subscribers. Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association figures also indicate that the majority of owners upgrade their handset every 18 to 24 months. The PR campaign targeted mobile phone owners nationally.


2.    Media


The campaign period was very short (less than four weeks) so IMPACT exclusively targeted short-lead media, to ensure any resulting coverage was secured quickly. Special attention was paid to radio and online media, who had the ability to file multiple stories and were crucial mediums to drive traffic to the MobileMuster website.

Communication Strategy: 

IMPACT had less than a fortnight to plan for this campaign. Rather than a long-term campaign that gradually encourages action from the target audience, the PR campaign needed to be on message, sharp and succinct.


Recognising that there are many competing charity campaigns at Christmas, IMPACT carefully planned its media approach. Focus was on marrying short-lead media relations (online, print and radio) with social media (facebook and blogs).


IMPACT put time into planning MobileMuster’s charitable outreach. A long-list of more than 20 charities with whom MobileMuster might partner was investigated. This was then narrowed to a shortlist of five. Talks were held with the Salvation Army and Oxfam to determine synergy between the charities.


IMPACT and MobileMuster chose to partner with Oxfam’s ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ program, which provides resources (chicken, goats, farming equipment) to develop fair-trade and sustainable community businesses in developing countries. Oxfam was chosen as it:

  • Was able to work quickly to help facilitate a joint CSR program.
  • Saw the value of linking to MobileMuster’s PR activities to promote its own ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ program.
  • Offered quirky news angles and images that would stand out in the noisy pre-Christmas period.

The ‘Old Phones for Chickens’ campaign saw MobileMuster agree to, via Oxfam Unwrapped, purchase one chicken for a family in Laos for each mobile phone sent in for recycling before 31 December 2009. Total donations would be capped at 1,000 chickens.

PR was the sole form of communication and no funds were allocated to any advertising.


Implementation was divided into four phases:


Phase One: Consolidating key messages


To establish the foundational aspects of the campaign, IMPACT liaised with Oxfam and MobileMuster to develop the key messages, language and call-to-action to be consistently used in all communications.


The next step was to create a dedicated landing area on the MobileMuster website, where consumers could download an ‘Old Phones for Chickens’ branded reply paid label to use to send in their old mobile phones and accessories for recycling.


IMPACT drafted copy for the website and a landing button was developed for the MobileMuster home page. All PR materials referred back to the website to drive traffic.


Information housed on the website focused on communicating a clear call-to-action and informing users about the campaign incentive, as well as the environmental benefits of mobile phone recycling.


Phase Two: Communicating via partners


Web copy developed by IMPACT was updated and supplied to Oxfam for use on its website. It was also supplied to MobileMuster’s parent organisation, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), for distribution to its members which include mobile phone manufacturers, carriers and retailers. By providing unified copy to all participants, IMPACT could ensure environmental education and consistent communication of the call-to-action.


An electronic direct mail was also prepared and supplied to Oxfam and AMTA to ensure that their own communications activities referred to the MobileMuster campaign and website.


Phase Three: Media relations


IMPACT launched the campaign via a quirky media release bearing the headline, ‘Australians too chicken to recycle mobile phones?’.It aimed to prompt discussion, action and make a dry environmental topic interesting to media in a ‘noisy’ period, especially talkback radio. The release was distributed to radio and online, suburban, regional and metropolitan media.


The media release focused on communicating simple environmental messages and a clear call-to-action. Key messages included:

  • For those with a new phone on their Christmas wish-list, it’s a good time to think about how their old phone can make a difference to someone in need.
  • Your old mobile might not be worth much to you, but recycling it can make a significant difference to the environment.
  • This Christmas, you can also have a positive impact on a family lacking basic essentials like food and a source of income while you help the environment.
  • Mobile phones are not biodegradable, but up to 90 per cent of the materials can be recycled.
  • Recycling your mobile is easy and free. Follow three easy steps to recycle your mobile phone before 31 December 2009 and MobileMuster will donate an Oxfam Unwrapped chicken to a family in need in Laos:

1.    Visit www.mobilemuster.com.au and download an Oxfam Unwrapped reply paid label

2.    Follow packaging instructions

3.    Drop into your nearest mailbox or Australia Post Outlet for free


In addition to mainstream news, the media release was sent to technology writers. In the past, technology writers had considered mobile phone recycling of interest mainly in the context of e-waste.


‘Old Phones for Chickens’ offered these journalists a fresh angle to consider mobile phone recycling. Five major technology writers covered the story including ‘Green Blogger’ on couriermail.com.au which featured it as a lead and syndicated it across the news.com.au online network.


Engaging technology writers has had long-term significance, as many of these journalists have since written follow-up stories on mobile phone recycling in mainstream media.


As the campaign feel in the end of the ratings period, deadlines for many television programs had passed prior to the campaign. IMPACT recognised that radio needed to be the primary vehicle to carry the MobileMuster call-to-action, alongside online.


In the past, MobileMuster hadn’t targeted talkback radio as it was perceived that recycling would not interest these programs. By combing a quirky, fun angle with key environmental messages, IMPACT was able to gain cut-through, securing more than 70 radio interviews; proving the value of radio.


Localised media releases were sent to 950 media outlets to create local relevance for consumers in regions and towns across the country. This was vital to encourage grassroots action. 


Phase Four: Social media


IMPACT also focused on marrying social media with traditional media relations. This was done by targeting technology and environmental bloggers. Click-through rates from this coverage was enormous. In particular, analytics showed Gizmodo readers were active in downloading labels.


To cement MobileMuster’s social media presence, IMPACT set up a Facebook event under the name of ‘Old Phones for Chickens’.


The Facebook event carried MobileMuster’s corporate imagery and that of the ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ program. It referred Facebook users to the MobileMuster website to download a reply-paid label.


IMPACT targeted a network of professionals (all of whom update their mobile phone regularly) and invited them to the event. Facebook users were asked to pledge their support by agreeing to ‘attend’ the Facebook event and recycle a phone. After the initial dispatch the cause went ‘viral’.


Key results were: 

  • 112 clips gained within three weeks, including 70 radio, 20 online and 22 print.
  • 465 kilograms of mobile phones and accessories, including 2,396 handsets, were collected via the reply paid Oxfam label.
  • The campaign delivered more than double the recycling target.
  • An estimated 1.2 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions was avoided by recycling the phones collected.
  • MobileMuster donated 1,000 chicken to families in Laos via Oxfam Unwrapped.
  • Oxfam was pleased with the coverage and consumer reception. It has approached MobileMuster about running the program again for Christmas 2010.
  • Website traffic generated by the campaign was equal to 80% of the hits generated by MobileMuster’s high-rotation TVC campaigns (but for a fraction of the cost!).


It was agreed that the campaign would be measured by two key criteria:

1.    Media coverage gained during the month of December 2009.

2.    Numbers of mobile phones recycled; MobileMuster setting a collection target of 1,000 handsets.


To ensure the campaign could be easily and accurately measured, a unique ‘Old Phones for Chickens’ reply-paid label was created. The campaign was evaluated on collections gained only through this mechanism. Additional phones were collected at mobile phone retailers during the campaign period, however these figures were not included in the results calculate below.


IMPACT also evaluated the campaign using Carma Masscom analysis software.



Measured by:


Stimulate mobile phone collections in December 2009  

  • Number of phones recycled via ‘Old Phones for Chickens’ reply paid label downloaded from MobileMuster website
  • 465 kilograms of mobile phones and accessories, including 2,396 handsets, were collected

Drive traffic to the MobileMuster website

  • Number of hits on the MobileMuster website
  • 4,354 unique visitors/ 15,193 page impressions
  • Traffic was equivalent to 80% of the hits generated in a high rotation national TVC campaign



Measured by:


Generate media coverage to:

  • Promote mobile phone recycling
  • Educate Australians about the importance of managing e-waste responsibility
  • Reach of campaign
  • Message analysis of coverage
  • The campaign reached a total circulation of 5,490,959
  • 90% of coverage included two or more key messages
  • 72% of coverage included reference to how to recycle and/or the MobileMuster website
  • Demonstrate old mobiles are more valuable recycled than they are sitting at home
  • Number of chickens donated
  • 1,000 chickens were donated by MobileMuster via the Oxfam Unwrapped program