Cannes Lions

Embarrassing Plastic Bags

RETHINK, Vancouver / EAST WEST MARKET / 2020


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1 Bronze Cannes Lions
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Around the world, over one million single-use plastic bags are used every minute—most of which are filled once then discarded. East West Market, a Vancouver grocery store known for organic food and sustainable practices, wanted to help shoppers remember reusable bags in a way that would really stick with them.

With almost zero budget and no media planned, East West needed a piece of eye-catching collateral that could grab shopper attention while raising awareness about the environmental implications and stigma of single-use plastic bags.


To amplify the shame already associated with plastic bags, we redesigned East West Market’s bags to make them look like they came from other, more embarrassing stores. If customers forgot their reusable bags, they would get a plastic one that read “Dr. Toews' Wart Ointment Wholesale”, “The Colon Care Co-op”, or “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium”.

By leveraging the checkout experience in a unique way, we were able to help shoppers get out of the mindless habit of forgetting reusable bags.


While most people agree plastic bags pose a big problem for the environment, many still forget reusable bags at home. One 2017 study found that while 97.5% of shoppers agree that plastic bags harm our environment, 76.25% will still use plastic bags.

To truly change shoppers’ habits, we couldn’t simply release more statistics about how plastic is ruining the oceans. We found that social influence has a greater potential to help consumers adopt greener practices. Since Vancouver is already known as an environmentally judgemental city, we decided to elevate the public embarrassment already associated with carrying plastic by releasing bags that would make the walk home from the grocery store with plastic bags even more shameful.


To bring the bags to life, we took 900 of East West Market’s plastic bags, printed our shameful logos on them, and gave them out in-store at the checkout. On the bottom of the bag, we included a message from East West Market to “Avoid the shame” and “Bring a reusable bag” for next time. When customers came to the checkout and forgot a reusable bag they would be given any of the three embarrassing bags and charged five cents for each.

To help our campaign gain traction online, we also shared a social video outlining the store’s new initiative to spread awareness around some of the dangers of plastic bag waste.


One week after release, 96% of customers were bringing reusable bags instead of plastic. This percentage remained consistent months after the campaign had finished. But, it didn’t stop there. Once the story broke, the local grocery store sparked a global conversation around single-use plastic. The bags were featured in the New York Times, People, NPR, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Forbes, Huffington Post Canada, and many more. The idea was even championed by world-renowned celebrities like Kevin Bacon, Stephen Fry, Jessica Hische, and George Takei.

By redesigning existing bags into a series of buzzworthy bags, we were able to drastically reduce plastic bag use in-store and help people in Vancouver and around the world think twice about single-use plastic.