Have Yourself A Sober Little Christmas!

Call me a buzz kill, but the holidays bring out the preacher in me. 

Last January, I rang in the New Year with a look at the marketing of shows like “Intervention,” “Celebrity Rehab” and “DUI.” Now, I’m celebrating Chrismukkah with “Project Roadblock,” aPSA initiative in which local TV stations around the country offer free airtime during the week of Dec. 26 in an effort to put the brakes on drunk driving. The multi-platform campaign, which also includes a social media program, runs during one of the deadliest auto-fatality weeks of the year and culminates with a concentrated roadblock of on-air spots, texts, and tweets leading up to New Year’s Eve.

Now in its ninth year, “Project Roadblock: Local TV Puts the Brakes on Drunk Driving” is a collaboration between the Ad Council, which produced and distributed the ads, TVB, the trade association for America's commercial broadcast TV industry, which mobilizes more than 800 local TV stations every year, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sponsors the campaign, provides issue experts and supplies the research data on buzzed driving.

This year’s campaign centers on a collection of :30, :15 and :10 spots sharing the theme “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving.” Previous campaigns—including the famous “Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign—have been highly successful: Research showed that in 1998, 62% of Americans exposed to that ad had personally intervened to stop someone from driving drunk. Yet, alcohol-related driving deaths steadily increased from the late ’90s on; many intoxicated drivers now claimed to be merely “buzzed” and still insisted on taking the wheel. In 2010, one person every 51 minutes—10,228 in all—lost their lives in crashes involving drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, according to NHTSA. Hence, the new campaign, educating the public that even a few drinks can impair driving.

Among my favorite spots is “Bad Daters,” featuring a young man and woman on their first date, which goes from awkward to terrible as the man allows the woman to pay for dinner, requires that she walk to his house in her high heels because he no longer has a car, and then turns out to live with his mom—all because he got busted for buzzed driving. The memorable tagline: “Buzzed. Busted. Broke.” 

“Our ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving’ target audience drinks and drives yet does not consider themselves to be hazards on the roadways or a drunk driver. They are primarily males ages 21 – 34, who don’t mean any harm but continue to drink and drive. They feel invincible or just unrealistically optimistic about the control they have over their lives. Therefore, our public service advertisements (PSAs) are unexpected and entertaining in an effort to engage, not preach to, our target. Our latest series of compelling PSAs visually depict the “financial consequences” of buzzed driving in an effort to inform the viewing audience that getting pulled over for buzzed driving can cost around $10,000 in fines, legal fees, and increased insurance rates,” said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. 

On the social media front, there are a variety of great pieces of artwork on the NHTSA Facebook page. I’m partial to a shot of a nice-looking young woman dressed in a Santa suit sitting in the back of a cop car with a headline that reads “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Jail Time.” 

There’s also an interactive website, where visitors are asked to take a pledge not to drive while buzzed, watch one young woman’s story about the consequences of buzzed driving, and play the interactive game, “Spot the Differences.” In addition, text messaging is encouraged—but not while driving, of course!— starting at the broadcaster level, where television personalities are asked to “make these holidays as safe as possible by sending a ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving…Pass it On!’ text message” to their viewers during the holiday season. 

According to TVB’s website, “The goal is to create a viral peer-to-peer mobile messaging program initiated by the station. Once the station sends it out, its viewers can forward the text on to their friends and family, and they, in turn, will forward it on to their list of contacts and so on.” 

And finally, everyone is invited to follow the campaign on the NHTSA Twitter page and “use the hash tag #buzzeddriving where appropriate and when character limits allow!”

"Local broadcast television stations are pulling out all the stops in support of Project Roadblock to help keep their communities safe from drunk driving this holiday season.  In addition to running these impactful PSAs on their primary and digital sub channels, broadcasters are using the extended reach of their websites, mobile and social media to get the word out. With participating stations in every market across the country, local television broadcasters are creating a multi-platform, national roadblock of don't drink and drive messaging driven by the most powerful medium, television, with the single goal of saving lives -- and it's working," said Abby Auerbach, executive vice president and CMO at TVB, who leads the Project Roadblock initiative on behalf of TVB.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas—and like New Year’s Eve. But I hope that with this multi-pronged PSA campaign, this will look a lot less like a season of buzzed driving.

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