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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

Project R

Entered in Brand Awareness Campaign


The tech industry at large has contributed to 50 million metric tons, or the equivalent of 1,000 laptops thrown out every second, of e-waste produced each year. E-waste is the largest growing waste stream globally and accounts for 70% of toxic waste. The impact of the non-stop creation, consumption, and replacement of devices, plus the cultural pressure to always upgrade, is devastating the planet in a way that can no longer be ignored. 

In September 2023, Back Market, the leading global marketplace for Verified Refurbished tech, called out Big Tech’s obsession with new by disrupting the biggest tech moment and stage in the world. Back Market led a global activation dubbed “Project R” and rolled out a faux “product launch” in the month leading up to Apple’s annual keynote to promote the “new,” more sustainable “R” phone aka a refurbished phone. Back Market tapped into consumer intrigue around new product drops by teasing a product that was not new at all - it was a refurbished phone that had been here all along. 

The climate impact is hard to ignore, especially when new phone versions barely boast major improvements. Back Market launched ‘Project R’ to ignite a global movement and spark conversation for a more sustainable way of consuming technology – one that values the rebirth of technology and a longer device lifespan to drastically lower the emissions impact of tech products.

Strategy and Execution

Back Market’s ‘Project R’ was designed to provoke thought and question the industry’s obsession with tech innovation by demonstrating that the most innovative thing to do might be to simply not buy into it at all. The campaign is underpinned by Back Market’s challenger roots and its focus on building a mainstream societal shift toward a circular economy. 

The campaign began with a subversive activation that poked fun at the tech industry’s “leak culture” on one of the biggest moments of the year: Apple’s iPhone 15 keynote on September 12. In the days leading up to the event, Back Market used the same marketing techniques that Big Tech does to tease the “R” - a top-secret, new phone that promised to be the most sustainable and affordable one yet. 

Back Market “leaked” a faux brand identity presentation in high-traffic areas around Cupertino and on Mac forums; sent tech and TikTok influencers mysterious locked boxes containing the “R” prototype; and placed OOH teaser ads and billboards in major cities – New York City (Times Square, Penn Station), Paris, Madrid and London – to further fuel the Apple rumor mill. When Apple’s keynote began, the boxes unlocked and the OOH ads switched over to reveal the truth: the prototype was a refurbished iPhone, and the “R” stood for refurbished all along. 

To supplement momentum, Back Market also launched a ‘Let Them Buy New’ international TV spot campaign the week of ‘Project R’ to parody product launch ads and capture the fallacies around the constant churn of “new.” The ads were shot by director and special effects artist (currently on SNL) Mike Diva and ran across New York, Paris, Madrid, and London markets. 

It’s no easy feat taking on the Goliath of the tech industry, let alone on its most anticipated day of the year. While Back Market didn’t steal all of the spotlight from Apple’s keynote, the consensus agreed that the iPhone was only incrementally better than previous models – and attention toward Apple’s “sustainability” claims was critiqued. Regardless, ‘Project R’ drove home the core message that high quality, more affordable, and more sustainable devices aren’t a future innovation, they’re already here.


Back Market was never going to usurp big tech on its biggest day of the year – that was not the point. The team successfully landed its message around sustainability and provoked critical thought toward Apple’s own sustainability claims throughout the keynote. By using Big Tech’s aforementioned “tease” and “leak” tactics and leading consumers into speculating on social media that the “R” phone and sustainability overall were connected to Apple’s keynote, Back Market was able to enter the fray and promote refurbished and repair efforts as the most viable option to constantly purchasing new. 

‘Project R’ stands as a testament to the power of thoughtful marketing strategies and engaging storytelling. The team witnessed an incredible response to the campaign, with 118 million paid impressions in a single day—a true testament to the curiosity it sparked. Its narrative, delivered across channels, resonated with 147 million unique viewers, surpassing expectations. In addition to the overall numbers, the campaign influenced shifts in consumer behavior: a 31% increase in "Back Market" queries in the US, a notable 70% surge in France, and a 24% rise in the UK. The unveiling of the “R” phone was marked by a 28% surge in "refurbished" keyword queries and a 64% increase in new site users, showcasing the genuine interest it garnered. In essence, ‘Project R’ is not just about numbers; it's about connecting with people authentically and leaving a positive impact.


Video for Project R

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Back Market


Entry Credits