Manchester Metropolitan University

Street litter could tarnish brand names

Award-winning marketing study

BRAND names like Coke, Walker’s Crisps and Stella Artois may be tarnished by the amount of ‘rubbish’ on Britain’s streets, according to researchers from Manchester two business schools.

Retail experts Cathy Parker and Stuart Roper have observed that the more ubiquitous the product, the more that product is associated with packaging litter.

Their award-winning study How (and Where) the Mighty Have Fallen: Branded Litter* recognises that packaging has increasingly become a primary medium for communicating brand messages, but questions if and how these brand messages alter if the packaging becomes litter.

Ms Parker, of Manchester Metropolitan University Business School (MMUBS) and her co-author from Manchester Business School, also suggest that in future the huge burden of clearing up litter might have to be shared by the large food and drink companies.

Potentially negative messages

Ms Parker said: "Companies spend huge amounts of time and money constructing messages about their products but what of the potentially negative brand messages conveyed by tonnes of litter? Has the impact of such potentially negative messages been considered by brand owners and the packaging industry?"

The paper follows on from a survey undertaken by students of MMUBS in Manchester City Centre which identified the brands that most frequently occurred as litter.

Walker’s Crisps topped the list with any city centre visitor having an 83% chance of seeing a discarded packet. Coke & Diet Coke came second and third respectively. Marlboro Lite came top of the tobacco brands as did Stella for alcohol and McDonald’s for fast food.

"It’s not surprising to see fast moving consumer goods being so prominent when it comes to litter. The biggest offenders reflect the status of the brands. Coke, Walker’s, Marlboro, Stella and McDonald’s are all leaders in their respective categories," say the authors.

"We argue that brands are still able to communicate a message when they are litter on the street, but we are not sure what message this is. If it is negative, it could significantly alter the way they do business."

Burden on society

The findings of future research are likely to have huge consequences. It was recently reported that around 300 tonnes of rubbish is discarded per day by people in Manchester City Centre alone which is a burden on the taxpayer.

If it is revealed that litter could trigger negative decision making from consumers then social responsibility for keeping the environment clean would be become a much higher corporate priority for some of the world’s most well known brands.

How (and Where) the Mighty Have Fallen: Branded Litter won the best paper award at the annual Academy of Marketing Conference in London this month.



The worst offender was Walker’s Crisps with 292 packets being found in 352 visits, in other words a visitor to this particular city centre location has a likelihood of 83% of seeing a Walker’s packet. Coke was spotted 288 times, Marlboro Lite 163 times, Stella 163 times and McDonalds 141 times.

Commercial organisations are keen to emphasise their commitment to corporate social responsibility. The websites of leading littering brands were accessed to consider their commitment to CSR. Coca-Cola claim to "conduct our business in ways that protect and preserve the environment", and "we strongly believe we have a responsibility to promote the environment".
Walkers’ crisps website states that they are "passionate about making a positive difference to the world around us," and notably to "minimise the impact of packaging".

For more information on the paper contact Cathy Parker on 0161 247 6056 or

‘How (and Where) the Mighty Have Fallen: Branded Litter’ - this paper appears in the Journal of Marketing Management, Volume 22, 5/6, pages 473-487 for 2006.

It won the award for the best paper presented at the Academy of Marketing Conference in July 2006. The award is sponsored by the Journal of Marketing Management.

2. About Cathy Parker
Cathy Parker is a Principal Lecturer in Retailing at the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School and Director of the Retail Enterprise Network. She has published in international journals such as the International Journal of Service Industries Management, the European journal of Marketing and the Journal of Marketing Management. Her research interests include the independent retail sector and town and city centre management and marketing.

3. About Stuart Roper
Stuart Roper is Lecturer in Marketing at Manchester Business School, UK. His main teaching interests focus on branding, marketing strategy and services marketing. His PhD involved research into corporate branding and reputation in the business-to-business sector. He is co-author of the book Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness and his main research area is branding. Prior to working in academia Stuart gained marketing management experience in business-to-business markets, notably in the telecommunications sector.

4. About the Academy of Marketing
The overall objective of the Academy of Marketing is to further marketing education and research and; to pursue activities and policy which further the professional development of marketing education; to encourage and promote academic research in marketing; to support marketing academics and associated staff as they develop their careers; to provide for regular liaison between marketing academics and associated organisations with related aims and activities for the benefit of members and the discipline; to foster a positive relationship between the requirements of practice and the academic discipline; and to seek representation on the issues arising in these activities at the highest levels of government, education and industry, to secure recognition and action, where required. (

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