The Irish Times reports (subscription required) on Fianna Fail backbencher Barry Andrews’ suggestion to send sports stars as ambassadors to schools as a means of promoting road safety. It is an interesting tactic to suggest given that it stands in stark contrast to the Road Safety Authority’s current strategy of producing hard hitting adverts. Commenting on his plan, Andrews said, “We should get people like Dan Shanahan, hurler of the year, into schools around Waterford to talk to young people about road safety. Give him a few quid to supplement his income…with respect to Gay Byrne [ chairman of the Road Safety Authority], he would not have the same cachet among the young people causing the problem.

Andrews’ suggestion reminds me of ‘Made To Stick‘, which I read recently. The book’s authors discuss a anti-litter campaign based on a similar communications strategy to Andrews’ suggestion. The book’s authors describe Dan Syrek as the United States’ leading researcher on litter. In ‘Made To Stick’, Chip Heath and Dan Heath outline the messaging behind one of Syrek’s successful campaigns – Don’t Mess With Texas. The original campaign prior to engaging Syrek featured anti-litter messages such as an advert “starring a cartoon owl who says, ‘Give a Hoot – Don’t Pollute.’”

As the authors point out:

“Syrek knew that this type of messaging wouldn’t solve Texas’s problem. In his view, those kinds of ads are just ‘preaching to the choir.’ What Texas needed to do was reach people who weren’t inclined to shed tears over roadside trash. The profile of the typical litterer in Texas was an eighteen to thirty-five year old, pickup driving male who liked sports and country music. He didn’t like authority and he wasn’t motivated by emotional associations with cuddly owls

‘We found that people who throw the stuff are real slobs,’ Syrek says. ‘You had to explain to them that what they were doing was littering.’ Syrek kept with him a photo of a macho looking man in a pickup truck. ‘This is our target market,’ he said. ‘We call him Bubba.’

Syrek knew that the best way to change Bubba’s behavior was to convince him that people like him did not litter. Based on his research, the Texas Department of Transportation approved a campaign built around the slogan ‘Don’t Mess With Texas.’

One of the earliest TV commercials featured two Dallas Cowboy players who were famous in Texas: defensive end Ed ‘Too-Tall’ Jones and defensive tackle Randy White.

What’s really interesting about Syrek’s campaign is that he correctly identifies audience and develops the messaging accordingly. In that context, Barry Andrews has a point about the effectiveness of the Road Safety Authority’s strategy. The most recent RSA photocall I recall features Gay Byrne and the Garda commissioner. It got widespread coverage, but did it motivate the intended target audience? Doubtful.

Ultimately though I don’t believe that Dan Shanahan or similar individuals would inspire young adults to take care behind the wheel. There are plenty of other issues that are ignored – the lack of driver education, driving test waiting lists, the state of Irish roads, etc – which are far more pressing.

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2 Responses to “‘Don’t mess with Texas’ meets road safety?”  

  1. 1 Damien

    Very interesting post. It’s frightening to see, with the roads issue, that the biggest problem we’re facing is getting people to stop driving like idiots. Insights like this could be of great help to the people working on campaigns. Is this a rare example of the Govt not getting enough PR advice?!

  1. 1 This is the answer to Ireland’s cocaine problem? at Piaras Kelly PR - Irish Public Relations


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