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NHTSA Gets It Right: New Anti-Texting Ad Will Give You A Heart Attack

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It's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created a public service announcement that will probably scare the bejesus out of you. 

That's a good thing.

When it comes to PSAs, there are, broadly speaking, three approaches that advertisers can take:

1. Rational. These clips use plain, Atticus Finch-style English to explain why smoking or drugs or bullying is bad. Only problem is, PSAs are usually limited to 30 seconds, maybe 60. That's not much time to make a compelling argument with dry facts, figures, and admonishments. Classic example: Pee Wee Herman's PSA about crack cocaine. (Yes, it happened.) 

2. Encouraging. These are rare, living in a kind of no-man's land between intellectual clips and their emotional opposites. They're meant to make you feel good about yourself and your ability to so something, like quitting smoking. There aren't many spectacular examples of encouraging PSAs, but this one from the Boston Alliance for Community Health is typical.

3. Emotional. Given the brevity of PSAs, advertisers do best when they can make a lasting emotional impact. Using fear or sadness or humor, they make users feel by using stories and images. There are so many classic examples of PSAs that rely solely on emotion, it's hard to cite just one, but for those of a certain age, the "Crying Indian" anti-pollution spots will bring back memories. (For slightly younger readers, try "This Is Your Brain On Drugs".)

We've seen plenty of PSAs for distracted driving. Oprah produced a soft-sell clip on the subject, while folks across the pond went for blood and guts and gritty realness. In 2012, Volkswagen published a great PSA aimed at women who put on makeup behind the wheel, and it used surprise as a selling point.

Working with the Tombras Group, NHTSA followed VW's lead with this month's ad, embedded above. It doesn't try to persuade with statistics or pie charts, it simply shows viewers the sudden, grisly results of texting and driving. To us, it's pretty memorable.

Bonus: if you missed this PSA from New Zealand about driving safely, be sure to give it a look. It still ranks at the top of our list.

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