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How advertising is making roads a better place, but it is still a long journey takes a look at some of the most powerful road safety awareness ads in 2014, and speaks to ad folk on how advertising can help curb the menace of rash and drunken driving more effectively

Sarmistha Neogy | Mumbai | January 5, 2015

road-safety Click on the image to watch the TVC.

It is that time of the year when work takes a backseat and we put on the party gear. The nip in the air, the brightly-lit streets and the festive spirit is contagious. Amidst the festive fervour, the issue of road safety often takes a backseat. According to the 2013 Road Transport Ministry report, India has the highest number of road accident-related deaths in the world: every four minutes an Indian dies in a road accident.

According to a WHO 2013 report, wearing a motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. Also, putting on a seat-belt reduces the risk of fatality among front-seat passengers by 40 - 50% and of rear-seat passengers by 25 - 75%. Texting and talking on mobile phones distract drivers’ attention and reduce their attention span, thus causing fatal accidents.

Despite a few impactful initiatives by advertising agencies to curb road accidents and instil in commuters’ minds the fear of death, change for the better is yet to be seen. spoke to advertising agencies which have been part of some of the most powerful road safety awareness ad campaigns last year to understand where we are going wrong and how we can put a brake on this menace.

Hit Them Hard

The latest campaign to have gone viral in an effort to raise awareness on the increasing menace of drunk driving in India is the hard-hitting film ‘My Husband made me a Prostitute’. The short, gripping video has been created by Mission Sharing Knowledge (MSK), an open editorial platform, in partnership with a Mumbai-based filmmaker, Pankaj Thakur. It is based on a fictional tale of a well-educated woman who has landed into prostitution because her husband is in coma following a serious accident – a victim of drunk driving. In the video she is seen recounting how, following the accident, their financial condition worsened as a result of which she was forced to take to prostitution. The film ends with a hardhitting message: ‘It’s your family who’ll pay the price. Don’t drink and drive’.

The video has garnered 1 million views on YouTube ever since it was launched on November 24, 2014, and has received mixed responses from the audience over its acceptability.

Rohit Sakunia Rohit Sakunia

Speaking on the criticisms which the video has been getting, Rohit Sakunia, Founder, MSK, said, “With India reporting as many as 1.34 lakh fatalities in road accidents every year, a vast 70% of them being due to drunken driving, ‘My Husband made me a Prostitute’ is a shout to all those people who boast of their driving ability when drunk. Yes, the content has not been appreciated by many, but it is not that we are forcing women to join prostitution. On the other hand, there are several road safety awareness videos online, but until and unless the message is hard-hitting, will you bother to watch it?”

Joybrato Dutta Joybrato Dutta

Elaborating on it further, Joybrato Dutta, writer of the film, said, “I had written this script in a long copy format and had posted it on my blog six years back. But, it was only a few months back, when MSK shared the content on its website that it went viral. After this, a few filmmakers approached us wanting to make a film and we liked Pankaj’s version and thus went ahead with him.”

Dutta, who now works as a Creative Group Head at Scarecrow Communications, feels that there are is no two ways of communicating this message because road safety ads have been done to death. So, until and unless something makes people highly uncomfortable, it won’t have any effect on the audience, he believes.

Ogilvy India’s ‘Seat Belt Crew’ video showing eunuchs as protagonists to highlight the importance of using seat belts while driving, and the ‘Good Road’ campaign targeting bikers asking them to wear helmets while riding, have been applauded by everyone.

Rajiv Rao Rajiv Rao

Commenting on the idea behind these campaigns, Rajiv Rao, National Creative Director, Ogilvy India, said, “We wanted to take a completely fresh look at road safety and communicate to people in a way that would be memorable. Eunuchs are always known to harass people at signals, but we turned that around, and, for the first time, delivered a message through them. It was refreshing and charming. And people shared it. The ‘Good Road’ idea was a product innovation which involved a lot of serious R&D and time. Instead of just telling people to wear a helmet, we gave them a solution. We made the bike redundant without the helmet. It's a powerful message.”

Ogilvy has also worked on a print campaign for Vodafone India to highlight the perils of using cell phones while driving. “This can’t be referred to as one of the negative sides of technology, because things are invented to make life better and easier. But we need to be aware and sensible enough to use it responsibly. Talking and texting while driving is a global problem and, as communicators, it's our responsibility to remind people about the dangers of using cell phones while driving,” Rao added.

‘Seatbelt Save’ was an OOH campaign executed by FCB Ulka for Mumbai Police, with the objective of highlighting the incidence of deaths in road accidents as a result of passengers and drivers not wearing seat belts. Research showed that drivers don’t wear seat belts while driving citing excuses like chest pain, discomfort, clothes getting crumpled and that ‘slow driving’ within the city doesn’t warrant the need to wear seatbelts.

Nitin Karkare Nitin Karkare

Elaborating on the campaign, Nitin Karkare, COO, FCB Ulka, Mumbai, said, “The brief we worked on was to change these beliefs and singlemindedly drive home the message that ‘seatbelts save lives’. It is a small but critical and life-saving habit. Most drivers live in denial. They think that accidents cannot happen to them because they drive safely. They neglect the fact that accidents are not only caused by their own mistake, but can also happen due to someone else’s carelessness. Using seat belts will only act as an added precaution in such unfortunate instances.”

“This is an ongoing campaign and we have, over the last 20 years, used different themes for tackling road safety. The campaigns are displayed at the Babulnath Junction billboard as it has a great location advantage since bulk of the traffic to and from South Mumbai passes through this corner. In fact, today the site is almost like a landmark; motorists have it on their radar to see what message the latest campaign has for them. The duration of every campaign is only one week, but we refresh the messages frequently in order to keep the buzz going,” Karkare informed.

Driving home the message

According to Rao, over the years, there have been thousands of pieces of communication on road safety – some provoke you, but most just come and go. “Road Safety is a huge concern, and habits don't change overnight. Like I said earlier, people will have to be reminded over and over again. It's an ongoing process,” he said.

Rao further said, “One of the biggest challenges is that people already know the dangers of not wearing a seat belt or a helmet. Therefore, most people are just indifferent and have the 'it won't happen to me' attitude. So, if the communication is not fresh and impactful, people will just skip it. Also, another big challenge is limited funds. A ‘Road Safety Awareness’ campaign has to be seen and be out there all the time, reminding people about the importance of road safety. And that requires dedicated teams, resources and media support. In helping it achieve this, there's no such thing as a single effective medium. Every medium can be used effectively to communicate a message. The best way is to surprise the audience with a powerful idea and a simple execution, no matter what the medium is.”

Abhirup Chatterjee Abhirup Chatterjee

Abhirup Chatterjee, Brand Strategist, Gozoop, believes that we need smarter ways to create a ripple effect with content that is not just compelling and shareable, but also involves the audience at an interactive level. “The most prominent campaign which was meant for a cause and happened to become a global phenomenon – ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, created for Melbourne’s Metro Trains – achieved this. If you look at the fact sheet, the campaign achieved its rail safety aims. 44,000+ Melbournians pledged ‘not to do dumb things around trains’ in the four months after the campaign launched. The operator too claimed that he had seen a year-on-year reduction in the number of ‘near-misses’. Without sounding critical, I believe that content shouldn’t just be about shock, gore or tugging at the strings of emotions to make people feel and cry. It is should be made more interactive which translates it into being actionable,” he stated.

Subhadeep Dawn Subhadeep Dawn

Subhadeep Dawn, Senior Art Director, Bates CHI & Partners, said, “These campaigns most of the time miss out on reaching its right target audience. Yes, campaigns are being made but they end up only winning awards and fall flat on effectiveness. So, my belief is that brands need to pursue it more seriously in order to see any positive change. ”

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

On the other hand, Lloyd Mathias, Marketing Head, Hewlett Packard, is of the opinion that communication forms a very small part in the prevention of road accidents. It just does the very basic thing of spreading awareness, and the major responsibility is on the political and administrative bodies, who need to work together to provide a safe driving atmosphere.

The TVCs:

My husband made me a prostitute:


Good Road campaign:


Seatbelt crew:


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