Today In Ads: AutoWeek's Gory, Confusing Stand On Distracted Driving

February 18, 2010
AutoWeek's 'Russian Roulette' distracted-driving ad

AutoWeek's 'Russian Roulette' distracted-driving ad

Here at TCC and throughout the auto media, distracted driving has been a hot topic. From eating to in-car internet, we've discussed the dangers, the myths, and the results of taking your attention off the road when you're behind the wheel. Our colleagues at AutoWeek recently decided to ditch the chatter and make their point graphically -- very graphically -- with a new print ad that compares texting and driving to a game of Russian roulette. But while the analogy may be accurate, the ad itself is a bloody mess.

To its credit, the spot does grab your attention. The revolver, the cell phone, and the giant blood stain are more than enough to make readers stop in their tracks. Unfortunately, they may not linger very long.

The biggest problem is that the graphic does a terrible job of explaining itself. What's going on here? Did a cell phone explode? Is the handgun defending the phone from armed attackers? Or did the handgun give the cell some payback-as-you-go? When we read the copy below the image, we see that the image is meant to draw a comparison between handguns and cell phones, but without that extra information, it looks kind of like they're buddies making a stand at the Alamo.

For another thing, the ad is too gory and earnest. Sure, our gut reaction to idiots who do stuff like text and drive may be to shake them by the shoulders, to shock them into changing their ways, but in advertising, that approach almost never works. Remember the "This is your brain on drugs" commercial which took a similarly violent tack? How many parodies of that have you seen? (Be honest) Showing readers the impact of something on their own lives is always more effective. For examples, look to anti-smoking campaigns, like the ads featuring Rick Stoddard, who lost his wife at age 46, or the ones that appeal to smokers' vanity? You want young people to stop smoking? Show 'em some photos of Keith Richards and say, "Dude, THIS IS YOU."

And for a third thing, the ad leaves out a very important bit of information. While the piece seems to focus on texting and driving, studies have shown that the simple act of talking on the phone -- whether it's in your hand or not -- is a huge distraction. Unfortunately, like the image above it, the copy is clunky and tries to convey too much at once.

For those of you saying, "Okay, critics, show us how you'd do an ad", we plainly admit: we got nothing. But then, we're not a print publication, either. And we have covered the topic in countless articles here on TCC and elsewhere in the HGM family. We suggest starting with Bengt Halvorson's recent article on the failure of anti-cell phone laws to reduce auto accidents. And buckle up out there.


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