Don't tell the driver, tell his mates

Should the anti-drink-driving campaign take a different turn?

Last year it was orphaned children; the year before, a boyfriend was killed on the way to a Christmas lunch. What will it be this year? Find out on Tuesday, when the Department of Transport launches its 1995 Christmas anti-drink-driving campaign and the first broadcast of this year's advertisement will be shown on television.

First launched in 1976 the anti-drink-driving campaign may now be as much a part of Christmas as Gary Glitter and Christmas lights, but the ads have helped make a difference. Numbers of drink-driving related deaths and accidents have fallen since the dangerous days of the early 1970s.

Most of us have grown up with "Don't Take Your Car For a Jar" and "Think Before You Drink Before You Drive". We all agree "Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives". So, do we still need the campaign? Yes, says the Department of Transport. The overall war may be won, but there are still pockets of resistance (particularly among young males) and around 90,000 convictions and 500 deaths a year related to drink driving still occur. People still need to be reminded, says the Government.

The advertising agencies are more than happy to oblige. Worth comparatively little financially, the anti-drink-driving account is nevertheless highly valued among the advertising community. "At its simplest, it's an opportunity to win awards and applause," said Roger Holsworth, Creative Director of D'Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles, holder of the account since 1991. "But it's also a chance to do some hard hitting stuff."

With the pounds 15m a year account recently under review, the interest of creative directors and planning managers in drink driving has been even more focused than usual. So, how has DMB&B tackled the campaign and what would other agencies make of it?

Roger Holsworth, DMB&B

"Nobody really wants to watch an anti drink-driving ad, so finding fresh ways of saying the same thing is a challenge. If you are too obvious, then people switch off and you've lost them. On the other hand you can be too clever. Our worst nightmare is a couple of punters bumping into each other in the pub and saying, 'Did you see that great commercial last night?' 'Yeah, really hard hitting.' Then they have another couple of pints, get in the car and drive home.

"These are government information films, but you never hear a voiceover. You can't tell people what to do - that would be far too Big Brotherish. Instead, the slogan - Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives - is flashed at the end of the commercial. That way people read it in their own voice. We inherited the slogan from the previous agency. We have occasionally challenged it, but there has never been a strong enough reason to get rid of it.

"The message is 'wrecks lives', so we tend to focus on the victims of the drink driver. We aim to worry the driver by putting on moral pressure. How would you feel if you killed or maimed someone? The 1992 ad with the single image of a girl lying dead was particularly effective. You don't see the driver, but you hear him: 'I just had a quick one. I thought I'd be OK.' The hardest group of drivers to reach are those who truly believe they are good citizens but think they are still safe to drive when they've had a pint or two.

"Last year, we tried to heat up the emotional temperature with some creative camera work. And to be honest, I think we over did it. The blurred story of Mark, a "great bloke" who orphaned two children after a quick one, has a nightmarish feel and is mesmerising to watch, but there is no powerful single image. Still, 79 per cent of viewers remembered it. If you get 60 per cent with a margarine ad, you're doing well."

Tim Broadbent, Young & Rubicam

"We think the emphasis on the driver and the driver's victim may not be the most efficient way of getting the message across. The trouble with 'Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives' is that people who don't drink and drive say 'it has nothing to do with me'. And people who do drink and drive, say 'I'm quite capable. I've never murdered anyone. Why should I stop?'

"Telling people 'You must not drink and drive' is like telling burglars 'You must not burgle'. A 60-second ad isn't going to get people saying, 'God, you're right. What I've been doing is completely wrong.' Advertising just doesn't have that sort of power.

"So, instead of talking to the driver we think you need to talk to the driver's friends. Peer pressure is astronger force than someone's sense of moral judgement. "A slogan such as 'Stop Him Before He Stops You' says drinking and driving is anti-social and selfish and that it's everyone's duty to stop people from doing it, because you could be the next victim."

Paul Richard, Leagas, Shafron, Davis.

"These ads have been going for nearly 20 years and it shows. People think it's Christmas, here comes the Queen's Speech, here comes Cliff Richard and here comes the drink-driving ad. People blank them out. The visual imagery doesn't help. Every time you switch on the television you see bodies and mangled cars in programmes such as Casualty and 999. People have corpse fatigue. People deflect the imagery and the message. They say, 'I've never killed anyone. My girlfriend's never been hurt by a drink driver. Why should I care?'

"Changing the format of the commercial would help revitalise it. It could be split into two parts; or after the screening of the ad, a slogan like 'Stop and Think' could flash up throughout the evening.

"A new approach is needed and we think that should be to disturb. For example, a man is in a pub having a drink. He leaves the pub and gets into his car. He drives down a road. He sees a flashing blue light behind him. You assume, and he assumes, it's the police and he's going to get nicked. But the car drives past. He gets home. He is met by a police officer and his wife, crying. His son has been killed by a drink driver. The slogan 'If You Drink and Drive, What Do You Expect?' would flash up. No blood, no bodies, but a very disturbing message: 'I can get away with it, but by drinking and driving I am condoning an act which could kill someone I care about.' Young or old, there's no escape from that.

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