Video: In Anti-Texting Ads, Which Works Best -- A Hard- Or Soft-Sell?

May 25, 2010
Screencap from anti-texting ad by Sajo, García & Partners, Puerto Rico

Screencap from anti-texting ad by Sajo, García & Partners, Puerto Rico

Last year, a very graphic, very disturbing film called COW premiered on British television. Its aim: to drive home the dangers of texting behind the wheel. To hype the show, Tredegar Comprehensive School and Gwent Police launched a trailer for the film on YouTube. Despite being over four minutes long, its images of teenage girls causing a deadly accident kept viewers riveted, and the clip became a PSA in its own right.

Over the past week or so, we've noticed a far less bloody :30 PSA running on American airwaves. It features the voice of Oprah Winfrey, and it's part of her well-publicized "No Phone Zone" campaign.  For the life of us, we can't find it anywhere online -- not on YouTube, not even on the "No Phone Zone" website, which seems really weird, given that the Queen of All Media is behind it -- but as we recall, the spot ends with the implication of an impending accident and Oprah's distinctive voice booming, "Think you can text and drive? You cannot do it!"

Now we've come across a PSA by Sajo, García & Partners of Puerto Rico that bears some similarities to Oprah's clip, but with no voiceover at all. Nor does it end with a crash or near-crash. It's really meant to demonstrate the length of time a driver takes his/her eyes off the road when texting and driving. Frankly, it's a little chilling.

All of which raises the question: which sort of spot is more effective on hardened texters?

Obviously, blood sells.  After being posted to YouTube, the COW trailer's message spread to other parts of the world; Mediacurves plotted its effectiveness on U.S. viewers in real-time, and the figures are startlingly impressive. In its favor: blood and a lot of sympathetic characters, like infants. Also: a score with lots of violins that sounds a little like Barber's Adagio for Strings, which is pretty much guaranteed to bring tears to people's eyes. Not so good: the length, which puts a limit on TV airtime and can be intimidating to online viewers. Also, the graphic nature of the piece can be off-putting to some, either because they can't stomach the (fake) blood, or because they find it over-the-top and campy.

The clip from Sajo, García & Partners has pros and cons, too. On the upside, it's short, so placing it in general rotation is a piece of cake. It's also not full of blood and death and screaming, so it's likely to be less controversial, meaning that there's nothing to stop it from running in any given time slot. On the other hand, it's a very soft sell, and the people who need to see it most (i.e. teens) may need something a bit more attention-grabbing to, well, make them pay attention.

Here are the clips themselves. In order: the U.K. clip; the same U.K. clip with response metrics overlaid; and the new clip produced by Sajo, García & Partners in Puerto Rico. You're free to spread them around -- in fact, we encourage it.

[YouTube, YouTube, and YouTube]

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