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New Year Resolution for 2008: Swim faster, Run longer, maybe return to cycling.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ad Campaign Should Target Some Singapore Drivers

No-speeding ads hit below the belt
Sydney targets male ego after previous scare ads fail to reduce accidents

SYDNEY — After failing to scare young men into driving more slowly, Australian authorities have hit on a new tactic: Questioning their virility.

An advertising campaign features passengers and passersby waving their pinkies — suggesting a certain lack of physical endowment — at show-off male drivers. “The message is: If you’re trying to impress people, this doesn’t impress anyone. People see you as a clown,” said Mr John Whelan, business director for road safety and policy at the New South Wales Roads
and Traffic Authority. “For a long time, nothing has challenged the fast car/big man image that car sellers sell,” added Mr Russell Watsford, a road safety marketing manager at the authority.
“This does.” The US$1.6-million ($2.4-million) state campaign, launched in late June, aims to cut a stubbornly high road death toll in the Sydney region. It is trying to slow down some of the main speed offenders, young men aged 17 to 25. From 2002 to last year, those drivers were involved in 34 per cent of the province’s fatal crashes, though they represent only 7 per cent of the state’s licence holders, figures show. “How do you make this behaviour socially unacceptable?” Mr Whelan asked.

Previous efforts to scare youths into slowing down — with ads showing bloody car crashes — failed, he said, largely because widespread violence on television, in horror movies and in video games has made younger people “more desensitised to shock-horror kind of images”. The new ads appear to have made an impression in a nation noted for its irreverent sense of humour.
Within days of their appearance on TV, in cinemas, at bus stops and on buses, the road authority’s website, which also carried the ad, registered more than 100,000 downloads and crashed three times. Now on YouTube, the ad has drawn more than half-a-million views. “It’s overwhelming,” Mr Watsford said. “What’s in the media resonates strongly with this group, far better than straight advertising.”

The slow-motion ad opens with a young man in a fast car, stopping at a red light as two young women wait at a crosswalk nearby. Grinning, the driver accelerates hard, smoke pouring
from his tyres. The two women lazily wave their pinkie fingers in the air and give each other a knowing glance.

In other segments, a grandmother also waggles her finger, as do teenage passengers in a show-off friend’s swerving car. “It’s great,” said Ms Katherine Ho, 27, a Sydney resident. “If you’re
in a car with your mates and they do it because they think you’re an idiot, there’s an immediate effect.” Road officials say they’ll look to year-end road death statistics as an indication of whether the new campaign is working. But, as with previous ad campaigns that helped cut the country’s rates of drunken driving and encouraged seat-belt use, the ad will be backed up with regulatory changes tightening penalties for speeding.

Under the new laws, provisional drivers — generally from 17 to 20 years old — can lose their licence if caught speeding. Road officials received overwhelmingly positive feedback from test audiences for the campaign before its launch and only 34 complaints on taste grounds. “People said, ‘This is a government ad?’” Mr Whelan said. “They found it empowering. A lot of women
of all ages said, ‘I do that anyway,’” referring to the key gesture. “We’re not trying to offend or be funny,” he said. “We’re trying to get in the head of these young guys.”

Impressed with the ad’s popularity, English and Irish road safety authorities have inquired about using it and “variations on it will get used everywhere”, Mr Watsford said. The United Nations, he said, has a new “empowerment” ad campaign urging bystanders to get involved
and take action against drunken drivers and speeders. The Australian authority is considering
following up with a positive reinforcement sequel to the ad — perhaps with careful young male drivers getting a different sort of reception from the state’s women. — MCT

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