How Direct Line improved young drivers’ behaviour on a shoestring budget

Brand director Kerry Chilvers says marketers need to “make some pretty big calls” if they are going to have an impact with a small budget.


Being brave is the best way to create change, according to insurer Direct Line, which set out to reframe what good driving looks like for young people, all on a shoestring advertising budget.

The campaign centred on Shotgun, an app targeted at male first-time drivers aged between 17 and 19, which went live at the beginning of the year with an ad budget of just £70,000 – far smaller than the insurer’s usual spend. The aim? To reduce the number of road deaths that occur during someone’s first 1,000 miles of driving, the time drivers are at the biggest risk of having an accident due to the gap between their perceived and actual driving ability.

“Young drivers account for 1.5% of road users, but 12% of road deaths,” says Direct Line brand director, Kerry Chilvers. “We’re at the sharp end of that; we take the calls when there have been horrific road accidents and people have lost family members or have life changing injuries.”

The team decided to avoid the scare tactics common with road safety campaigns, which often fail to resonate with young drivers because they think ‘that’s sad, but I’m invincible. It’s not going to be me’. Instead Direct Line worked with its telematics provider, behavioural scientists and transport research labs to determine how to change driving behaviour.

The videos were very much focused around the concept that safe driving earns you rewards, but through the analogy of sex.

Kerry Chilvers, Direct Line

The Shotgun app is based on telematics technology which scores the user’s driving, providing full feedback at the end of the journey on where there is room for improvement. Direct Line wanted to focus on the positive impact of telematics in a bid to shake off the ‘big brother’ perception often held by young drivers.

The gamification element of the app allows drivers to rank themselves against a global leaderboard or their own personal leaderboard which ramps up the competitive element by pitting them against their friends.

The driver receives their first reward, such as a free Amazon voucher, after completing their initial journey using the Shotgun app. There are then six reward thresholds to hit based on the number of points accumulated for good driving. Once 1,000 miles are completed the driver receives a congratulatory message, and while the app can still be used to monitor their driving they will not be able to collect any more points or rewards.

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Appealing to young people

Chilvers says the first challenge was to develop an app that young drivers would want to download and tell their friends about.

“I was quite blown away talking to the age group at the amount of importance they place on the self-image of the apps they have on their phone. It defines who they are and it’s got to be something they are happy for their friends to see,” says Chilvers.

Shotgun app

The brand worked with young drivers to ensure the design, usability and rewards were relevant to the age group. The team also researched a variety of different names, before deciding on Shotgun. To add credibility, the app was positioned as ‘Shotgun, powered by Direct Line’ to show young drivers and their parents that the app was from a trusted source.

“Like it or not, Direct Line isn’t in that space, particularly when it’s related to road safety. They think it’s a brand for their parents and Shotgun really broke through as it absolutely talked to what the app is about.”

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Rewarding culture

Amazon, iTunes and Pizza Express vouchers are the most popular rewards, with the service expanding to include New Look and Primark vouchers post-launch. Chilvers explains it was crucial to recognise that this demographic does not have much disposable income and therefore giving them vouchers for things they really need makes a big difference.

“It’s really important to give rewards that are not contingent on them spending more money with that retailer. They may well do, but actually we didn’t want to say we’ll give you 25% off at Primark or New Look because then they would have had to put in the other 75%. So these vouchers are a real treat,” she says.

Shotgun collage

The message appears to be resonating with young drivers. In the year since launching Shotgun has exceeded all Direct Line’s expectations, reaching the company’s annual target of 20,000 downloads five weeks early.

To date 22,000 people have signed up to the app, claiming 57,000 rewards. Some 21,000 of the sign ups completed their first journey, 388% up on Direct Line’s 5,400 target. Nearly 10,000 of those drivers used the app for the full 1,000 miles, up 495% on the company’s 2,000 person annual target.   

The gamification of the leaderboard was consistently used by one in three drivers, with over a third setting up their own personal leaderboard to compete with friends. Direct Line calculates that one in four drivers have improved their driving performance as a result of using the Shotgun app.

While the primary mission was always to improve young people’s driving and prevent road deaths, the team hopes these young drivers will be more likely to consider Direct Line for their insurance in the future and think more positively about the capacity for telematics to improve their driving ability.

Maximising earned media

Achieving maximum engagement on a £70,000 advertising budget meant Direct Line had to swap the high-profile TV and radio campaigns for quirky and impactful activity that would stand out and drive downloads via word of mouth.

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“It was really critical that the app became something that you are likely to tell your friends about and therefore the advertising became a much smaller component part,” Chilvers explains.

“We thought, what is another hot topic among males? Sex. That started the idea that the road isn’t the only place where young males need to exercise control. It felt like something that had instant talkability and shareability, and again not what you would expect from a brand like Direct Line or from a road safety initiative.”

Playing to this positioning Direct Line launched with a series of mockumentary-style videos featuring ‘Louise’, a girl who gets her kicks out of safe driving and also happens to have ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ tattooed on her thigh. The first video shows her picking up safe drivers using her speed gun, while the second follows Louise on a date, which is going well until she realises the man in question has parked illegally. Cue a slap in the face.

“The videos were very much focused around the concept that safe driving earns you rewards, but through the analogy of sex. For us as an insurance company, or for any big brand for that matter, it was quite a brave thing to do. But it was critical as we wanted this to be something people talked about,” says Chilvers.

“Road safety advertising is probably the last thing teenagers want to pay attention to. Having these videos was something that was very different and allowed us to capture their imagination and get a huge amount of PR coverage.”

While a lot of the activity around Shotgun was focused at a primarily male audience, Direct Line decided to target female drivers by working with vlogger Emily Canham, who had recently passed her driving test. One of Canham’s vlogs helped the app achieve one of its best ever downloads in a week and reach over a million people.

To support the videos and influencer activity Direct Line ran gifs on Facebook and Twitter themed around the ‘If you want free rewards, download Shotgun’ positioning. Then in the second part of the year the focus was on sustaining downloads with no advertising budget. Direct Line estimates the Shotgun campaign reached 2.4 million 17- to 25-year-olds, generating earned media coverage of £5.8m advertising equivalent.

Chilvers says one of the biggest things the company has learned from running a shoestring campaign aimed at changing behaviour among 17- to 19-year-old consumers is the need to be brave. This bravery was fuelled by a deep understanding of the target audience and what it would take to capture their imagination, she adds.

“If you want to have a demonstrable impact on a much smaller budget you’re going to have to make some pretty big calls. An insurance company calling an app Shotgun was a pretty big call. It was also about recognising that the reason we did what we did wasn’t to make all of us feel comfortable, it was because we needed to cut through.”



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