Shock, not nice words, is needed to improve the UAE’s road safety record

March 12, 2009

wataniyacrash2One of the few TV commercials that I can recall vividly from my younger years is a 1993 anti drink-driving campaign by the UK’s Department for Transport. It was a cheerful affair for the first 20 seconds or so, with youngsters flirting, drinks flowing, and all those involved living life to the full during a sunny afternoon get together in the country. In keeping with the occasion, Mungo Jerry were singing In The Summertime by way of accompaniment.

As the TVC drew on, the friends hopped into a car, drove through some country lanes and, just as Mungo was singing “Have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find”, crashed. I can’t remember if they all died, but I do remember blood, smashed windscreens, an overturned car, flashing lights and Mungo’s ‘Have a drink, have a drive’ slowly distorting.

I recall this ad for three reasons. Firstly, I was in my early 20s at the time, it was summer, and I formed part of the target audience; secondly, the TVC was a brilliant play on six words in a Mungo Jerry song; and thirdly it revealed with great impact the consequences of somebody’s actions – something that is crucially lacking in the UAE’s social awareness advertising.

I raise this example as a means of questioning the ‘softly, softly’ approach to social marketing, and also to illustrate that it is in fact memorable, creative and shocking TVCs targeted at a specific audience that are needed to help improve the UAE’s road safety record. Social awareness ads that seek not to offend anyone help no one. When you’re dealing with people who drive at 160km/h down Sheikh Zayed Road, don’t signal, let their two-year-old child drive, don’t wear a seatbelt, talk on their mobile phone and smoke with their free hand, the time for pleasantries is over. These people need to be hit with strong messages, and hit hard.

Advertising alone cannot change behaviour, but it is a vital ingredient. That’s why I simply do not agree with any assertion that a relationship has to be built with the public first before shock tactics can be rolled out. I don’t want organisations to be my friend, I want them to help save my life. And this can only be realised with the help of strong, often shocking, consistent, well targeted and incessant messages.