Summon the Coatsy: volunteering, garbage and guerilla marketing

Part of the World Cleanup 2012 project, Nova Scotia, Canada held its own action on the 8th and 9th of June. To understand the clean tag campaign of Clean Across Nova Scotia (CANS), as well as volunteering in Canada, consumerism, waste problems and guerilla marketing in general, we spoke with John Coatsworth aka Coatsy who gave his knowledge and skills in marketing in the service of the cause.



You called yourself the vanilla guerilla of Clean Across Nova Scotia. What does that mean?    
I’m the vanilla guerilla alright, and at the time I was doing something for CANS.
In my opinion people mis-use the term guerrilla in advertising, they say it's anything outside of the normal traditional media they use, web, print, billboards, now they have outdoor media as well, but to me, there's only one definition for guerrilla: an irregular soldier, usually indigenous military or paramilitary unit operating in small bands in occupied territory, harassing the larger enemy by surprise raids, sabotaging communication and supply lines, to undermine the enemies' campaign. Now I add it to marketing.
The enemy in this case is current methodologies and practices.
My definition comes from loose interpretations of the Art of War. Anyone out there thinking they’re doing good in the world needs to read that book, any version, because whether you like it or not, you are fighting a HUGE uphill battle: and there's ways for fighting uphill battles outlined in the art of war...

For all those who don’t yet know: what is guerilla marketing all about?   
Take everything the big guys left behind, and use it against them to advance your own agenda. Hopefully you’re like me, and you’ll want to do some good with it. Think like a scavenger. There ain't enough words to type it out, you want some lessons? Come to Canada, I'll fill you in.

So, in addition to coming up with that amazing idea of cleantagging and creating a pressure washer, what else did you do for the Nova Scotian cleanup?
I postered the Halifax peninsula, and participated in the clean-up itself. I had Neil Bailey, the program director, over at my house almost three times a week for months prior, going over the creative possibilities for the clean up, and like minded projects in Nova Scotia. I almost wish I’d filmed some of our thinktanks, we came up with so many solid, viable creative media solutions for initiatives like the world clean up. Even though I can’t remember half of them, most of the notes are scratched on the board room paper still tacked to my walls.

Why did you do that? What made you join in to such an action?
Two words: Neil. Bailey. Neil Bailey and I have been great friends since the day we met. I moved to Halifax after graduating from Humber College with a diploma in graphic design and advertising, specializing in guerrilla advertising, and unorthodox marketing... but I spent my nights living recklessly. I won't get into specifics, but alcohol fueled heavy metal and random acts of large scale destruction were a regular occurrence. Neil Bailey recognised that though I am high energy, easily excitable and loud, I have a skillset that you can not find anywhere else, and with very little convincing, it made perfect sense that I contribute my abilities, learned from places no one goes intentionally, to better the place where we live.

Cleantagging... why not rent a pressure washer? Aren’t they available around Halifax?
I contacted a rental agency who was willing to give me a great deal on a rental, but it wasn’t enough of a deal to convince me of the value. Buying a pressure washer and renting it to Clean Nova Scotia was a better idea. I tried to get them to buy it for themselves.  I could throw the same pitch to you right now, for your ecologically conscientious not-for-profit organization and I guarantee you and I would be in the store buying one right now, I have no idea why they didn’t. ;)

What exactly did you do with that water tank to make it work?    
Through trial and error, I found the massive weight of 100 liters created enough pressure through the tap at the bottom. The pressure washer simply intakes water into a pump, but it requires a small amount of pressure to convert. About 70-100PSI is converted into approx. 2400PSI. Good deal.

Am I getting it wrong or you actually used rain water...?    
I used tap water, with time and planning I most certainly could have used rain water, it rained for 40 days straight last spring in Halifax. There’s enough rain here that people tell you “I’ll swim right over” when they’re on their way to see you.

What is it that you actually do in your life?
I’m a freelance creative. I've had so many jobs it’s nuts. I’m 31, and I’ve lived in 5 provinces, at 48+ addresses. I was raised into the trades and music by my dad. I took a 20,000 dollar loan to achieve a diploma that could land me a job working in an advertising studio making 40,000 a year pumping mass produced bullshit products into the minds and stomachs of the masses. I took that diploma and used it to educate “mom and pop” small businesses, independent projects, and entrepreneurs in ways they can develop and evolve stronger. I also use that same diploma to “flip off” people in advertising and marketing who sell out and make ads for horrible companies that pollute the planet, and minds and bodies of hundreds of thousands of millions of people worldwide.
What do I do? I live around the poverty line, surrounding myself with industrial refuse and building material, my head filled with tricks and strategies any ad studio would pay me well for, and I give those ideas to the people doing more good than not in this world.

What do you think makes Canadians contribute to good causes?   
I’d like to think it’s a human thing. Not an easy question to answer, here’s my perspective: we’re a simple country, so simple that obvious rights and wrongs seem pretty obvious. Also, another thing, concerning the act of sharing, I believe that there is for the most part, an inability to truly enjoy something without sharing it. Let's put it this way, if we’re all partying, and someone gets sick or hurt for what ever reason, it's kinda hard to keep partying with someone in the dumps like that. You try to help them out.

How common is volunteering in Canada?
It's pretty popular. Just about every disaster that happens anywhere outside of Canada ends up getting a visit from us. Volunteering is human. I’ve participated in countless respects on many projects and I am aware of a culture of volunteers that I see as a very powerful psychographic. People want to be a part of something bigger than them. Volunteering is great in the way that if you believe something should be done, and it's impossible for one to complete it alone, then you can be a part of a group of others feeling the same, and the likelihood of reaching the goal is more tangible. Many hands make light work as my mentors used to say.

What do you think about the idea of cleaning everything up? What does it give to the world?    
None of it will matter if there isn't a widespread campaign educating people about the products they buy, and how that waste adds up with everyone else's to high levels of world pollution. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great, but I can tell you, with absolute resolve, that there are think tanks powered by billions of dollars training the masses worldwide to live in exact conflict with your goals. For every single communication one makes about a clean up, there must be a direct line of association between the lifestyles we lead that make the garbage we clean up. Believe me, you can wonder all you want, but I’m telling you right now, billions are spent training the masses to disregard the consequences of disposable lifestyles.
Clean all you want, there’s more coming. Trillions of tons of garbage yet to be cleaned, and more coming.
What does it give to the world? Hopefully a hope... What it will do is show us how we can move the garbage around a bit more. The clean up is great, again, but I think it's not nearly enough. Cleaning up the world doesn't change how people live. Billions of dollars spent indoctrinating people changes how people live. It doesn't convert the waste into usable or properly broken down materials... it just moves it around.
Is a garbage can on the street what we need? It just gets it off the street, and what good is that? Out of sight out of mind? Sounds like the other side of the environment design contributing to the neglect. “I’ll put it in the garbage can, and then it disappears. Problem solved.”
Google “garbage island” and get ready to find out where all those things you flushed down the toilet as a child went... straight to the Pacific gyre, where it, like the four other garbage masses floating in our oceans, spin around in the balding sun and dissolve slowly, down to a tiny bite sized molecular level that all the fish we eat can eat.

What would you say to the people who are still organising a cleanup in their country?
The act of cleaning does nothing but move garbage out of the way. When you go home, and you look through the things that you think enrich your life, things you're convinced you can't live without, commodities, gift ideas you give to people, I want you to imagine everything you've ever bought throughout your entire life, and then I want you to think about that mountain of garbage in the Pacific, twice the size of Texas and growing, and remember, you own part of that. We all do. Every one of us, and every time you buy ANYTHING, you build your retirement home on your own little piece of Hell.
Sounds horrible? It is.

Is it worth it?
The second it’s not, I’m moving back into the woods.

Interviewed by Auli Kütt