Softly Softly Approach Gives Way to Shock Tactics


Today's controversial pounds 1.2m drink-drive advertising campaign is launched from a more secure base than the pioneering first campaign in 1967. Then it was a shaky attempt by the Government to promote the introduction of breath-testing, and the ads subsided thereafter until 1975 because of lack of funding.

Department of Transport officials believe that recent advertisingcampaigns have been effective in reducing the drink-drive death toll. They point to a large drop in 1987 when the slant of the slogans and advertising shifted from warnings about getting caught to an emphasis on the fact that drivers who drink endanger lives.

In 1977, for instance, the slogan was “Think before you drink before you drive” and the accompanying advert showed the penalties of a conviction. Others that followed included “Don’t drink and drive – you’re asking to get caught” to “Stay Low”, which was controversial because, it was argued, it indirectly endorsed drinking a little and still driving.

But in 1987 the DoT introduced the “Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives” slogan. Since then there have been variations on the same theme, including in 1992 a television advert that could only be broadcast after the 9pm watershed, showing a girl lying on the pavement covered with blood. The death toll had stayed constant at 660 for two years. But in 1993 it fell to 550. Also in 1992, the campaign was extended to the summer, and in 1994 and the summer of 1995 emphasis was laid on the effects of just a couple of drinks. The campaigns are targeted at young men in their late twenties, who are over-represented in accidents, particularly at Christmas.

But not everyone in advertising believes in shock tactics. “They work for the young male audiences at whom they are aimed,” says Merry Baskin, head of account planning at JWT, “but they can be so disturbing for the mainstream that the tendency is to shut them out.”