Viewpoint: Saving lives with marketing

Raoul Pinnell, former chair at Shell Brands International and now chairman of Strategic Investment Partners, explains how marketing helped to get Shell’s truck drivers in Pakistan to change their driving habits and reduce the accident rate in that country, which was higher than in other territories.

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The issue in Pakistan was a combination of very challenging – poor and difficult – local roads, which meant there was a need to encourage tanker drivers to change their driving habits and better respond to these tougher conditions.

Marketing didn’t change the selling of a product or identify customer need, but it elicited an understanding of how to change an individual’s behaviour.

At Shell, we had meetings where the top 100 executives from around the world came together. That was where marketing had the chance to evangelise and ask: why don’t you look at this problem in a different way?

We thought drivers would be more careful on the road if they were given rest stops with cafés and prayer rooms, as well as fitting their cabs with seat belts, but that wasn’t changing their driving behaviour.

At the Top 100 meeting, I said: “Let’s not look at the problem as trying to fix the roads, the trucks or the drivers. Is there something we are missing here?”

It often isn’t the purchaser who marketing communications are aimed at, it is someone else. So we ran group discussions to understand and work out what the issue was about behaviour [and how the drivers were driving] and identify the target [for any behaviour-changing interventions].

One of the drivers in the group discussions said: “Why don’t you talk to my wife about this?” So we ran focus groups with the wives, who talked about the effect on the family, including loss of income, if someone loses their life. We used the wives to help influence their husbands and get them to drive more safely.

We took those insights from the wives and made them into something that changed behaviour, which in this case was a video that was played in the rest-stop cafés. We had the authenticity of people telling their story, their concerns and issues, and that is what starts to change people’s behaviour.

This brought the number of road traffic accidents in Pakistan down to a level that was not materially different from anywhere else in the world.

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