Media Skepticism

Scaring Us Into Submission: Really The Best Plan?

Drink-driving is a serious problem worldwide, especially among young people. In the UK 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured on average each year in drink drive collisions. This occurs across a wide range of ages, but particularly among young men aged 17-29. In New Zealand over 40% of all drink-driving crashes involve drunk drivers under the age of 24 years.These statistics are echoed around the world.

A variety of approaches have been employed to try and keep these statistics down, but the most visible to the general public is the TV ad. One of the traditional tactics used in these ads is the “shock factor”. I’m sure you’ve all seen the gruesome adverts warning of the consequence before (and if not, I’ve got four from around the world embedded below).

(These clips have aired extensively on public television, but are nonetheless a bit graphic so come with a trigger warning. They come from Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK respectively)

The problem with this approach however, is that while there is certainly some psychological evidence to suggest that this “turn off” approach is effective, this evidence has been disputed.

In this paper, The role of fear appeals in improving driver safety:A review of the effectiveness of fear-arousing (threat) appeals in road safety advertising, they say:

The results of the review highlight the mixed and inconsistent findings that have been reported in the literature. While fear arousal appears important for attracting attention, its contribution to behaviour change appears less critical than other factors, such as perceptions of vulnerability and effective coping strategies. Furthermore, threatening appeals targeting young males (a high-risk group of concern) have traditionally relied on the portrayal of physical harm. However, the available evidence questions the relevance, and hence effectiveness, of strong physical threats with this group.

In other words, these shock tactics are certainly, um, shocking, but they don’t really help change behaviour.

All of this leads up to what I really wanted to say: The New Zealand Transport Agency has recently released a new drink-driving campaign that focuses on the social factors involved with the decision to drive after having drunk alcohol. I think (in my personal, completely subjective opinion), that they have done a really excellent job. The ad is humorous, and very effective at targeting its intended audience.

The folks at NZTA had this to say about it:

These boys are not bad people.

They’re good people who make bad choices. They don’t set out to drive drunk, they just don’t plan ahead. A few beers with the lads can easily morph into a bigger night, poor judgement and fewer options to get home. But while the consequences of driving drunk are well-known, it’s also widely believed that if you drive drunk, it’s likely you’ll get away with it. This belief is reinforced by the times they did ‘slip up’ and got away with it. They lived to tell the tale, which has since become a ‘success’ story they share with their mates.

Coupled with this belief is that no one stops them or makes them feel uneasy about their choice to drive. It’s too awkward so why would they? It’s hard to tell a mate not to drive; no one wants to lose face, to be seen as the ‘downer’ of the party or to be accused of being ‘soft’.

This campaign aims to encourage people who drink with our drink-driver to take some responsibility and speak up when he is about to drive drunk. We want them to have the guts to speak up and say something without feeling like they’ve killed the mood.

The goal of this advertising is to acknowledge the feelings a young man might have around speaking up when a friend is going to drive drunk. Thinking you might ‘look bad’ in a social situation is what is in the way for most people. We need to break through this barrier and the use of humour is key to achieving this successfully.

Seems like a much better approach to the issue, no? Check out the ad below.

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Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.

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