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This road safety ad is so bad, it’s a viral success

Posted by Tom Megginson | 24-06-2014 14:08 | Category: Road safety

This road safety ad from the Department of the Environment in Ireland is so bad, it's a viral success.

Yesterday morning, when I blogged about this government anti-speeding PSA from Northern Ireland at The Ethical Adman, I thought it was just another obscure and ill-conceived shock PSA. But the real shock has been the >1.5 million views it has earned on YouTube.

The big question is, are people watching because it’s powerful, or are they engaging in some “Friday”-like social media Schadenfreude?

The ad itself is, in my opinion, awful. Not because it shows a bunch of children getting killed, but because it does so with overwrought pathos, really unnecessary and awkward foreshadowing (the toy car? really?) and special effects that are more laughable than tragic.

Think I’m overly-cynical? I’m a parent of a child that age, and I rail against drivers who speed — especially around schools. But this approach will have zero impact on offenders.

These ads preach to the choir. Sensitive parents and angry advocates will feel validated by a sense of outrage. But what they won’t understand is that PSAs tend to fail when they exaggerate or try to provoke feelings of guilt in offenders. Viewers within ths supposed target audience tend to either deal with the emotional approach by denying that they are that bad, or that it could happen to them (because everyone thinks they’re a better driver than everyone else). The other defence is laughter. Because come on, that scene of the children getting flattened is so unrealistic, it looks like an intentionally-bad scene from an old TV comedy.


There are two other factors, however, that are probably helping take the ad viral. One is the magic word “banned” (it’s not really, but it’s not allowed to be shown on TV before 9 p.m.) The other is the sombre cover of “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”

Department of the Environment (UK)
The Ethical Adman
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Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

Who produces it? Is it another Lyle Baillie International?

Posted by Arthur Wilhite | 24-06-2014 16:23

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success


Posted by Mrtijn Oostra | 24-06-2014 20:28

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

A similar (mistaken) approach. Agreed.

Posted by Tom Megginson | 24-06-2014 21:36

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

Great piece Tom, cracking analysis (as always).

You are spot on with your ‘preaching to the choir’ line, and this is typical of much RS work which relies on obvious sentimentality and spoon-feeding an audience rather than engaging them at a cognitive level (which you and I know helps behaviour to stick).

Yes, this is Lyle Bailey and yes, the Northern Irish (particularly) are convinced that their shock/awe approach is the right one.  When BBC NI interviewed me during Embrace Life’s ascendency, both the agency and the road safety agency were given the opportunity to engage in a pre-recorded debate over the efficacy of shock/gore or emotional/cognitive behaviour change methodologies.  Strangely, they didn’t engage with the BBC’s offer of a professional debate, instead pre-filming a defensive segment that aired during the news item.
Oh well. 

The approach is, I think, basically an updated one from a similar ad with a single child in a garden, from the late 1990s.  Annoyingly, I can’t find it right now, but I will look.

My view as a behavioural marketer is that this sort of work just isn’t efficient or effective.  There are so many studies about the comparative impact duration of shock/gore v emotional/cognitive that I’m amazed that this work still exists.

Of course, I could be really controversial and suggest that the most damning thing about this whole genre is its failure to change behaviour, acknowledged by the fact that people still make this type of work.

Because if it worked, you wouldn’t need to keep making it, keep doing essentially the same thing.

If it was effective, you could spend your creative energies on the next issue (like drink, drugs, mobile phones etc).

So the fact that they are being made constantly proves they’re not effective.

Time more a new approach?

Or stick with the old one which makes the entrenched feel better about the work that they’re delivering at a minimum of efficacy and efficiency.

Me, cynical?

Posted by Neil Hopkins | 25-06-2014 20:14

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

Thanks, Neil!

Posted by Tom Megginson | 25-06-2014 23:50

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

Dear Neil and Tom,

Just to support your comments with facts.  I did a study of pedestrian fatalities based on case files from the Road Traffic Investigation unit in Northern Ireland and the NI Coroner’s service. Based on my findings, between 2008 and 2012, there were 10 pedestrians up to 16 years of age killed.  My study analysed seven of those ten fatalities.

Three of those were toddlers.  None of them, nor the children of school age: 5, 14, 15 and 16 were killed by a young male driver in a speeding car. 

Four of these children were killed by vehicles at very low speeds (two by relatives), the remaining three were killed by vehicles which had not exceeded the maximum speed limit.  One was walking on a rural road in the dark, wearing dark clothing, with his back to the car that hit him (the car driver just didn’t see him), another walked out from behind a car into the path of another in rush hour traffic and the remaining case was a toddler that ran out onto the road.  The driver swerved and crashed to try to miss the child.

What I understand is that apart from rare cases, the majority of under 16s killed were passengers in cars, not pedestrians.  So effectively this particular video appears to be based on a false premise.

Also the DOE people have a rather peculiar meaning of the word “speed”. What I understand is that their interpretation of “speed” has nothing to do with speed limits or excessive speed or even driving at a speed which is perfectly lawful.  Their interpretation of “speed” is “depending on the conditions”, so if somebody is driving at 25 mph and has a crash - according to the DOE road safety people, that is speeding…..

I sat in on a meeting once and a person who was very experienced in road traffic fatalties made the comment “I switch the channel when those ads come on”.  The response from a very “assertive” representative of the DOE was “that’s what we want you to do, because it means that the video is working!” 

It seems that the people advocating this type of road safety message are so entrenched in their own perspective on life, that they can’t accept any opinion other than their own and that of the advertiser, who for what ever reason, is the only company winning the very lucrative tenders for these campaigns. 

Thanks for posting this blog and the response from Neil, at least I know I’m not alone in thinking that there must be better ways of educating road users.

Posted by Elaine | 9-10-2014 12:50

Comments about This road safety ad is so bad, it's a viral success

Thanks for your additional insights, Elaine! Much appreciated.

Posted by Tom Megginson | 9-10-2014 19:02

My comment


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