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.”