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NYC’s sanitation department is using TikTok to make you cry about street litter

A new PSA for street parking is a black-and-white, emotional-roller-coaster spoof of Sarah McLachlan’s classic spot for the ASPCA.

NYC’s sanitation department is using TikTok to make you cry about street litter
[Source Images: Getty]

It starts in stark black and white. Sarah McLachlan’s woeful ballad “Angel” plays in the background, as men and women look soulfully at the camera and utter one word, “Please.”

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Is this a reboot of the hit 2007 PSA from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), in which the Canadian singer-songwriter’s plea made everyone cry and raised tens of millions for that organization? Nope, it’s for street litter.

New York City’s Department of Sanitation needed a way to get residents’ attention to raise awareness for the restoration of pre-pandemic, full alternate-side parking rules. Basically to get people to move their cars so the streets can be cleaned up. With alternate-side parking known as ASP, the department saw an opportunity in an ASP/ASPCA pun. In a minute-long video originally posted to the department’s TikTok feed, sanitation workers and executives serve up their biggest puppy dog eyes to ask you to remember to just move your damn car. Think of the litter! Will no one think of the litter!

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The goal was to let New Yorkers know that this wasn’t about writing tickets, but rather about cleaning streets, which by all accounts grew dirtier during the pandemic.

“We aim to meet people wherever they are,” says the department’s press secretary, Vincent Gragnani, who points out that the Department of Sanitation was the first New York City agency to have a TikTok account. “If a significant segment of our population is scrolling through social media videos, we need to be there as well. With more than 44,000 followers and some videos reaching 2 or 3 million people, we know our message is getting through.”

It’s not the first time a municipal sanitation department decided to get weird for attention—witness Toronto’s 2010 efforts with Chuck and Vince—nor is it even the first time McLachlan’s ASPCA ad has been spoofed this year. Ryan Reynolds’s agency Maximum Effort recruited McLachlan for the fintech startup Bolt back in January.

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The department has expertly calculated its use of the unexpected to grab your attention as it scrolls by in your feed. Part-SNL digital short, part Ikea “Lamp,” it shows us, the audience, a level of respect for our time and sense of humor that, frankly, we haven’t exactly come to expect from most municipal messaging. Now go move your damn car.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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