A view from Dave Trott: Thinking on the fly
A view from Dave Trott

Thinking on the fly

In 2004, Camden Council spent £250,000 removing fly-posters.

They issued an anti-social behaviour order against the biggest offender, Sony.

Two of the Sony chiefs, Catherine Davies and Jo Headland, promised to stop fly-posting.

So the ASBO was suspended as long as they complied.

Other councils – Islington, Greater Manchester, Hastings – began using ASBOs against their biggest offenders.

But that still leaves the problem of all the other illegal fly-posters: car-boot sales, raves, concerts, furniture sales etc.

They couldn’t trace them all and take out ASBOs against all of them.

So a council in East Midlands found a more creative way to handle the situation.

Don’t approach the problem from inside the head of the council.

Approach the problem from inside the head of the offender.

If the council simply takes down the poster, it costs a lot of time and money.

But it doesn’t cost the fly-poster anything.

So there’s no incentive for them to stop doing it.

But how about if the council didn’t take down the poster?

How about if they simply slapped a sticker over it saying CANCELLED.

That really would cost the fly-poster something.

They’d get exactly the opposite of the effect they wanted.

The poster would now be telling people to stay away from the event.

The poster would now be costing them money.

Which is why Oadby & Wigston Borough Council decided to do exactly that.

Councillor Graham Norton says they were removing 100 fly-posters a week.

So they paid a local printer £240 to print 1,200 bright orange strips saying CANCELLED.

(And underneath, in much smaller letters: "This poster has been cancelled by Oadby & Wigston Borough Council.")

The effect was immediate – the council didn’t have to remove a single poster.

The fly-posters began rushing round tearing down the posters themselves.

Scared stiff that they would put people off coming to their car-boot sale, or rave, or concert, or furniture sale.

Within eight weeks, the number of fly-posters had dropped to zero.

The scheme was so effective that it is being considered by other councils: Northampton, Wellingborough, Leicester and Rotherham.

But the part I love is the creative thinking.

Instead of the council thinking "We don’t want those posters up", they reversed the problem.

They thought, what can we do to make the offenders think "We don’t want those posters up"?

How can we make them want to take those posters down themselves?

And they reversed the whole point of the posters.

Instead of making them good for business, they made them bad for business.

At a stroke they changed the posters to encourage people to stay away from the event.

Councillor Norton was asked whether he was worried about being sued by the people who put up the posters.

He said: "How can they? What they are doing is already illegal. The last thing they want is for us to know who they are – if we did, we could sue them."

Which is the really smart insight that changed the brief.

The real creative thinking here was to stop thinking like the prey, and start thinking like a predator.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.