Forest Insect and Disease Newsletter

PlayCleanGo: Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks

The Issue:

image: PlayCleanGo brand markThe Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service described invasive species as a "catastrophic wildfire in slow motion". Forty two percent (400 of 958) of the plant and animal species listed by the Federal Government as threatened or endangered had been negatively affected by invasive species (Nature Conservancy 1996; Wilcove et al. 1998). A decade ago, Pimentel, et al, estimated invasive species cost the American public $138 billion each year in reduced forest, rangeland and agricultural production, water quality, recreation, property values and human health. Since then, that dollar figure and the number of new introductions of non-native species each year have increased exponentially in direct relation to world trade.

The state and federal regulatory agencies have been working hard with businesses and governments worldwide to help prevent new introductions of harmful invasive species. They've made great progress through outreach to industry representatives, enhanced trade standards and enforced trade regulations. Where public entities are still struggling is how to reach private individuals. Not only are private individuals difficult to reach and even more difficult to regulate, they are largely unaware of the menace they and their belongings may harbor as they move around the planet at ever increasing frequency. In the case of natural resource protection, the private individuals we are most interested in are outdoor recreationists.

The Foundation:

In 2008, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry turned to a science that the private sector had long ago perfected – social marketing. Social marketing is the science of conveying messages with a particular call to action (like buy this car) to particular audiences (like women between 25 and 50 years old) based on a thorough research-based understanding of what that audience already does, feels, thinks and believes. In the realm of invasive species, the messaging speaks to resource protection, pride in our home state and personal responsibility. The call to action is to be informed, attentive and accountable for preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species. The audience in this case, is Minnesota recreationists.

An interagency task force conducted a series of focus groups and a large phone survey of Minnesota recreationists. The research helped describe the current knowledge, attitudes and behaviors among MN recreationists and some of what drove their decision making.

What the research told us was that 70-80 percent of all recreationists:

  • Knew that invasive species could be harmful
  • Cared about natural resources and the planet
  • Had a strong desire to do "what's right"
  • Felt a strong pride in their state
  • Participated in 4 or more outdoor activities

What the research also told us was that the majority of all recreationists:

  • Didn't really understand what invasive species were (many named native species they considered pests, such as poison ivy, ticks and mosquitoes)
  • Didn't understand their role in spreading invasive species (felt birds, government or industry were to blame)
  • Didn't know how to properly clean their gear
  • Were concerned that cleaning might take too much time

While differences in behaviors and attitudes between specific groups (when assessed by geographic region or outdoor activity) were significant, they were small. Because almost all outdoor recreationists participate in multiple sports, they cannot be effectively divided into separate silos; nor can the messaging developed to reach these various groups, unless audience-specific media is serving as the vehicle for communication, such as a hiking club newsletter.

Based on the baseline of understanding the survey provided, an interagency working group developed an education plan designed to reach these audiences and encourage desired behaviors. To implement the plan, the group again turned to the lessons learned through social marketing. To fulfill our education goals, we needed an education brand. Like the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers stop sign icon, we wanted a brand that could become synonymous with responsible outdoor recreation.

The Brand:

Like the Target bulls-eye and the Nike swoosh, brands (once established) instantly convey a series of messages meant to appeal to various sectors of the public. Brands give the product or organization a look and feel meant to attract specific audience groups or to portray the product or organization in a particular light. The DNR has a brand. The UMN has a brand. And the state of Minnesota has a brand strongly connected to the environment and outdoor recreation. Strong positive brands are critical in doing and attracting business. Or in this case, attracting partnership and voluntary compliance.

In looking at our education campaign, the interagency working group identified several prerequisites needed for our education brand to be effective. It needed to be:

  • Fun; actively encourage outdoor recreation and avoid discouragement
  • Modern; speak to the times, attract young families and individuals
  • Easy & assessable; speak to their concerns about the time needed to comply
  • Flexible; accommodate various recreational audiences and media outlets
  • Compatible with partner brands; compliment and support the goals of partner organizations and programs such as Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers
  • Build on the existing education plan with the goal of changing public behavior
  • And it needed to provide a clear call to action to all sorts of recreationists.

The state was lucky to be able to hire the same contractor who designed the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers brand for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In working closely with stakeholders and agency representatives, they created the name, look and feel of PlayCleanGo.

The colors are bright, bold and modern. The name is simple and memorable. In using "GO", the brand name effectively mirrors our fast paced lives (and subliminally suggests that cleaning is fast and easy). Sticking to the words (rather than using a separate image or icon), allows the brand signature to maintain a universality that makes it applicable across multiple organizations and political jurisdictions. The diamond shape suggests the caution statements found along highways and draws a parallel to the stop sign used in Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers. And most importantly, "Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks." lets folks know what the program is about and calls for personal accountability in a fun and playful way.

PlayCleanGo is designed to give recreationists a clear call to action to be informed, attentive and accountable for preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species


Messaging System:

By leveraging the brand name, tagline or any number of potential headlines in an array of formats from trail signage to magazine ads, PlayCleanGo provides a systems approach to messaging that can reach a variety of audiences through a variety of media outlets. The modular nature of the formatting makes an infinite number of combinations possible to meet all outreach needs. PlayCleanGo can be used to effectively communicate to any recreational group the actions needed to break the link between outdoor recreation and pathways of spreadfor terrestrial invasive species (or aquatics for that matter).

image: PlayCleanGo Messaging system


Different headlines can be used to leverage the brand name (such as "Work, Clean, Go"), the tagline ("Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks"), the url ("") or any number of other headlines that speak to recreationists. Some headline examples include:





Protect Our Natural State

Leave Trouble Behind

Spread the Word, Not the Problem

Give Invasive Species the Brush Off

Keep (state or park name) Natural

Don't Take Them for a Ride

Come Clean, Leave Clean

Wipe Your Feet, (state name)

Help Keep (state or park name), (state name)

Don't Pick Up Strangers

You Make the Difference

Stop Them in Your Tracks


Using PlayCleanGo:

As in commercial marketing, the more often the message is repeated, the more likely the audience is to remember the product or brand message. So we invite you to use PlayCleanGo in your outreach efforts where ever possible. The brand comes with graphic standards, media examples, a photo library and action steps customized for specific recreational activities. You can just drop an existing ad into your materials or request assistance in developing a new ad for a specific usage. For more information on using PlayCleanGo contact Susan Burks at For assistance with graphic layout or interpretation, contact Kim Lanahan-Lahti at