At four minutes and 15 seconds, a public service announcement produced in Wales, UK, clocks in at an unusually long running time, as TV spots like this one go.
However, its length is not likely to be the reason why it sticks in viewers’ minds. The video, produced by the Gwent Police Department to warn against the dangers of texting while driving, is a graphic, bloody dramatization of the aftermath of a car accident caused by texting while driving — and some might say, over the top.
The video starts out with three teen girls driving a car, distracted by a text they are sending. They hit another car head-on, then are hit by a car that was following them, resulting in the apparent death of one of the girls. The drivers of the other cars are also seriously injured or worse — as depicted by their young daughter in the back seat asking why mommy and daddy won’t wake up. The rest of the video depicts the aftermath of any serious accident with bystanders and first responders racing to the scene and close ups of the fear, tears and blood of the survivors.
Banning the Practice
There is little doubt that texting while driving is dangerous — critics of the practice liken it to driving while intoxicated; a stance supported by a number of studies. One of the more recent comes from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which found that truck drivers who texted while driving were 23 times more likely to have an accident.
While most jurisdictions have laws forbidding driving while distracted in general, a number of states have specifically banned the practice, including Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia. Several senators in Congress have a proposed a federal ban as well.
Laws, though, only curb user behavior by so much — especially when it comes to things like using seatbelts, wearing bicycle helmets and not throwing litter out the window of a moving car. It may be difficult to remember now, but a few decades ago such behavior was common — until, that is, public service announcements began to change people’s behavior.
It is not surprising, then, that public safety advocates are focusing on texting while driving.
“These types of ads have a long history of working,” David Johnson, principal of Strategic Vision told TechNewsWorld. Johnson has produced several PSAs, including one illustrating the dangers of meth abuse.
However there is a fine line between a hard-hitting but effective PSA, and one that has overreached, as the Welsh ad may have done.
“Eventually, a backlash will form against what you are trying to accomplish,” Johnson said. “It makes people angry and they decide to do whatever the behavior is, just to ‘show’ you.”
That is particularly so among teens and young adults, he added — a constituency that appears to be the very target of the PSA in question.
PSAs that do work usually depict something that is “real,” Johnson said — for instance, a person who caused an accident while drunk and then is talking about the effect of the accident.
With some careful thought, it is easy to produce an effective PSA, Tim O’Brien of O’Brien Communications told TechNewsWorld.
“The goal of many PSAs is to tap an emotional nerve to make a connection with the viewer. Because PSAs are usually centered on some issue related to the benefit of larger society, this is oftentimes achievable,” he said.
However when PSAs depict extreme, violent situations, they run the risk of desensitizing the audience not only to the violence but also to the message, O’Brien said. “The third or fourth time the viewer sees the same PSA, the shock value is lost and the message becomes part of the media wallpaper.”
Still, advocates of hard-hitting ads say they are necessary to get a message heard through the larger marketing din.
“With the overall saturation of ads, sometimes the only way consumers will listen is if they are hit upside the head with a message which makes them pause and take notice,” Robb Hecht, principal with IMC Strategy, told TechNewsWorld.
“We should applaud the campaign, for although it may come across as bloody, it’s better for consumers to see visually what could become of them” if they try to text while drive, he said.