Hard News by Russell Brown


Dilemmas: the drug-driving ad that isn't

Public service advisories about drinking and driving – and road safety in general – have been with us for many years. For a long time, they had a common theme: to scare some sense into the public with, if necessary, the most horrifying imagery.

But it turns out that, because they're human and it's been a long day, people mentally switch off from horrifying imagery. So in recent years, we've seen the rise of the advisory you might actually want to watch. The NZTA "ghost chips" ad in 2011, part of the long-running "Legend" campaign, underlined the value of such an approach by effectively becoming part of the culture.

It also emphasised anticipation, agency and "what if?". The more recent "Legends" (guy goes to car, but after the good life he stands to lose flashes through his mind, thinks the better of it) did the same, a bit less successfully. NZTA's new ad, "Dilemmas", officially billed as a continuation of the Legends campaign, does the same thing, but places the agency and the "what if?" with the potential driver's mates.

The story is is that the two guys get set off by an offhand comment about what if their mate, currently tottering away from the party and towards his car, "karks it on the road". The immediate thought is that there'd be no one to get them through Mad Mick's farm to their favourite surfing spot. And then things get surreal.

The truth is that these two guys aren't drunk. Or, rather, they're not just drunk: they're wasted. These aren't the waking dreams of merely drunk people, they're the visions and thoughts of people who've been enjoying the bong (or something else, it doesn't really matter). The ad doesn't need to point out that being drunk and high is a particularly risky state for driving. It says that even when you're absolutely flying you can still think it through and stop your mate doing something really stupid, for everyone's sake.

In that sense, I think it's actually the best drug-driving advisory NZTA has produced, in large part because it's not identifying as a drug-driving ad. We've had a few: Taika Waititi's "Blazed" (gorgeous to look at and wonderfully acted, but a bit too subtle), the hidden-camera series capturing "a real-life drug driving experience" that was rendered completely unreal by the hammy acting of the drivers, the "Shopkeepers" ad, which was pretty much a string of stoner cliches your parents might come up with, the somewhat oblique "High crashes" print campaign – and "Thoughts" the one with the two idiots who crash into a traffic island, which is probably the best of them.

Or rather, it was, until "Dilemmas". I'm not even sure this was what NZTA and its longtime gency Clemenger BBDO were shooting for – officially, it's just another ad targeted at young men in the regions who drive drunk because there's no Uber – but they've hit the mark regardless.

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