TfL has leveraged emotional insight to create a high impact teen campaign

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“Don’t die before you’ve lived” saw teenage road injuries and fatalities in London fall by 18%after the campaign launched in 2009 after an extensive ethnographic research project carried out by Transport for London (TfL).

If anyone ever needed to demonstrate the power of insight towards creating campaigns that hit a target group’s sweet spot, and ending up with real, quantifiable results, TfL’s initiative is it.

The massive qualitative research project carried out before the campaign was developed was so clearly thought out and rich in results that it took out this year’s Marketing Week Engage Award category for Market Research.

If you live in London you’ve probably seen the ads, featuring teenagers, their hopes and dreams, and then – tragedy, a life cut short after a horrific car accident. If you need reminding, turn to page 37 of our digital book of Winners and Finalists from the awards night.

The images are confronting and thought provoking, and didn’t just come from hazarding at guess at what would resonate with teenagers. They realised that insights from a survey or focus group just wouldn’t cut it, knowing that claimed behaviour might not give a full picture of how teenagers actually behave on the roads and why.

TfL’s customer research team’s ethnographic project was made up of an observation of teenagers’ behaviour on the roads by an ethnographer at key locations and times, accompanying groups of teenagers in busy areas at weekends to observe and discuss their behaviour on the road, as well as interviews with parents and teenagers.

The research revealed a complex myriad of emotionally driven behaviour: the importance of friendship and a strong desire to lead and be led by the social group; a low consciousness of risk and the ability to calculate it; an overt desire for risk taking as a form of excitement; the sense that road safety is “old news”, distractions such as music on headphones and texting, and the higher talkability of other issues, such as knife and gang crime and bullying, which are thought more likely to happen than being hurt or killed on the road.

TfL hit on something with the friendship and social group insights, and the teenagers involved were then asked to write an imaginary obituary for their best friend.

It was a logical move, then, for the campaign to revolve around friendship, and focusing on the consequences of losing a friend or inadvertently even causing their death as a result of carelessness on the road.

Embarking on such a detailed research project may have been time consuming and costly, but the results speak for themselves. Not only did the number of teenagers killed or seriously injured in London fall significantly in 2009, but you can do the maths when you consider that the cost of a single fatal road casualty is £1.8 million, according to the Department for Transport.

TfL’s project makes it evident what an impact quality insight can have, for the greater good, but also on the power of marketing.

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