Drinking and driving has been a social problem for many years. Annually it accounts for thousands of deaths worldwide.
In the UK, the government objective is to reduce the number of drink drive related deaths and serious injuries on British roads.
The role of advertising is to change attitudes, creating a climate of increasing public disapproval, which ultimately changes behaviour. This does not happen over-night, and to this end DMB&B has been working with the Department of Environment Transport & the Regions (DETR) for many years.
Most recent advertising has focused on the dramatic consequences of drinking and driving. The ads have been particularly relevant to young men who have significantly more alcohol-related accidents than any other group.
Advertising has been the focal point of the campaign. Deaths have almost halved in the past ten years – about 540 people die a year now compared with 990 in 1986. All available research demonstrates that it is no longer socially acceptable behaviour.
However, this year, DMB&B was presented with a worrying new fact. The consistent decline in deaths has reached a plateau. Further analysis indicated that the advertising had persuaded virtually everybody who could be convinced, based on the existing strategy. That left a group of hard core offenders for whom the current approach was not appropriate.
The key to the problem is the definition of drinking and driving. Most people believe it means “drunk” driving (driving after five or six pints or more). In fact, impairment of driving skills begins when very small amounts of alcohol have been consumed.
It is also true that drivers who have blood alcohol levels only just over the legal limit cause a large number of drinking and driving related deaths. So the new strategy is to redefine drinking and driving – a difficult and long-term task.
Complicating the matter further is the concept of “moral limits” compared with legal limits. Many of these people consider themselves to be responsible, they do not drive when they are drunk.
Many of them if driving, drink to a personal limit based on what they think they can handle. As far as they are concerned this is perfectly moral and acceptable behaviour, even if it is over the legal limit.
The result is a new campaign, launched yesterday (Tuesday), that continues to target young men but broadens the message to others who behave this way. The ad demonstrates that these people who believe they are behaving responsibly actually cause large numbers of accidents and deaths every year.
Qualitative research indicates that the new strategy is very powerful. However, it works in a very different way to previous advertising. It is much less dramatic and shocking. Instead it forces viewers to identify with the behaviour and therefore reappraise their own actions. It leaves the viewer with fewer escape routes.
COMPANY: DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT
TRANSPORT & THE REGIONS
Head of publicity (transport section): tony allsworth
Account board director: russell seekins
Account supervisor: mark oppenheim
Planning: leisa bruce
Creative (new campaign): jonathan pittard/steve wakelam
The Portman Group
This season’s government TV ads have no blood, no dead children, no noises of the operating theatre, no strapping young man reduced to being spoon-fed.
Instead of shock-horror, this time the ads appeal coolly to people who think they are already taking personal responsibility. We are shown that they are deluding themselves, because it’s people like them (that is, like us) who are responsible for thousands of drink drive accidents.
But why change a winning formula? Britain has fewer drink drive accidents than most comparable countries. People think it’s morally wrong to drink and drive. Drink drive deaths have plummeted over the past 20 years and the TV ads over the years must have contributed positively to such a significant change in attitude and behaviour.
Yet the drink drive death toll has remained oddly constant at 540 a year since 1993. Enter the new challenge to social drinkers behaving responsibly, by having a coffee before driving home, relying on the girlfriend to grab the car-keys if necessary, or just drinking ‘up to my limit and no more’. The drinkers come across as a bit worse for wear and a touch defensive, as if the penny is dropping even as they speak, that their game plan is a sham.
But sham or genuine, they are peddling myths and excuses. And it’s right to get people who identify with them to accept that they could cause injury or death because of it. ‘Have None for the Road’ is the campaign’s neat slogan.
It’s original and clever. But it’s also risky. It could be successful and still not make a big dent on the death total. Most fatalities involve drivers who are either repeat offenders and/or have very high blood alcohol levels, well above the legal limit. Shock-horror didn’t work on them.
They aren’t remotely responsible, so the moral approach won’t wash either. A study commissioned by The Portman Group from the British Institute of Traffic Education Research concluded that ‘new initiatives must concentrate on the serious drink driving offender. Successful counter measures against this group will also tend to have an effect upon social drinkers. The reverse is not necessarily true’.
Publicity campaigns are part of drink drive counter measures – and not just at Christmas. But with the hardened offender and the heaviest drinkers, it is probably realistic to concede that other factors such as wider police powers, harsher penalties or, for some, compulsory rehabilitation will make the difference.
Everyone ‘responsible’ who sees the TV ads this Christmas and really switches to ‘none for the road’ will do the right thing. Time and statistics will show whether a shock-horror approach should be used again. My guess is that the kind of drink driver who needs a shock should get it through the criminal justice system, not the TV screen.