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Did This Ad Campaign Save Lives?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Advertising is meant to produce results. The results could be a change in behavior, an increase in purchasing certain goods or services, more traffic through the door, etc. We can see how an advertising campaign effected the result in two ways: evaluating the problem before the campaign was in place and looking at the change, or removing the campaign and seeing what difference it makes.

The Advertising Association (AA) across the pond decided on using the latter method when looking at the effect anti-drunk driving ads had on the public.

The results were unfortunate.

The UK cut its road safety advertising campaigns by 80% from 2008–2009 to 2011–2012. In that same period, drunk driving deaths increased by 26 percent.


The AA doesn't believe so. They provided more numbers: according to the IPA Effectiveness Awards, the THINK! Campaign (the campaign done by the Department of Transport that encouraged sober driving) prevented 3,000 deaths and serious injuries between 2000 and 2008; a savings 53 times greater than the amount the department saves on slashing the campaign's budget.

Ah, yes, but what is prevented is never felt. Yes, our irrational brains are more likely to fear loss than to venture out for potential savings. That is the most common battle we fight in advertising. 

But lives are at stake here.

Of course there are more variables that could have boosted the rise of drunk driving in the UK. The economy is a mess there, with unemployment at its highest in decades. But one would think that when situations arise where civilians will be more inclined to engage in risky behavior, the government would try to intervene before the damage is done. 

That would require effort. And ad spending.

It's an important issue for all of us to think about. Will we be able to consider the potential savings an advertising campaign can reap us, and the benefit it will bring to our audiences, regardless of the cost up front? What are we willing to risk? In this case, lives were lost because the government believed cutting the campaign's budget from £19m to £4m was worth foregoing the £800m in potential savings; a return of nearly 10 to 1.

But let's be clear; this is a report that has more correlation than causation. This report is skewed to make the government spend a little more to put safety back on the minds of its citizens.

We don't believe that's a bad thing.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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