In response to the growing mound of unpaid fines, the Ministry of justice has launched a new advertising campaign via M&C Saatchi that features Mr Fines, a suited bald man who seems to have been cast out of the mould usually reserved for stereotypical debt collectors.
Central to the campaign is a new 30-second TVC in which Mr Fines is depicted as paying visits to various Kiwis and seizing items that belong to them in lieu of payment for outstanding fines.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice says that the new advertising campaign is designed to notify Kiwis of a law change and to remind them of the existing steps government can take against those who fail to pay up.
"The introduction in February this year of a new sanction – Driver Licence Stop Orders (DLSO) – provided the perfect opportunity to refresh the five-year-old 'Pay your Fines or Pay the Price' campaign, and to let people know about the new sanction, which was introduced as part of a law change," says the spokesperson.
Prior to this law change, the Ministry of Justice was already able to seize and sell property, deduct money from wages and block overseas travel for Kiwis who had outstanding fines.
"Those measures – supported by a long standing advertising campaign reminding those with money owing to 'Pay your Fines or Pay the Price' – helped reduce the total level of unpaid fines by over a quarter of a billion dollars since 2010," says the spokesperson.
Despite cutting into the total amount owed, the Ministry's spokesperson adds that the job is far from done.
"Even with the quarter billion dollar reduction in the fines debt, there’s still $554 million owed in unpaid fines – and the vast majority of it is traffic related, meaning the DLSO could affect many people. In that context, the ability to stop people from driving by suspending their driver’s licence is a powerful new mechanism to encourage people to pay what they owe."
Even though the ad depicts a diverse range of people – which the Ministry's spokesperson says "[reflects] the real life demographics of those who have fines overdue – the DLSO sanction section at the end targets three young drivers. And this, says the spokesperson, was not a random case of casting.
"Younger drivers with fines make up a significant proportion of those potentially subject to the DLSO sanction. Men under 30 years of age, for example, make up about 30 percent of drivers with fines eligible for the DLSO."
Given that the campaign has been launched via television, radio, billboards and online executions, it would've cost the Ministry quite a few dollars. But when asked on the expense of the campaign, the Ministry's spokesperson would not be drawn into quoting a figure.
"The new campaign was launched within the Ministry’s annual budget allocation for Collections advertising. The costs are commercially sensitive," he says.
He did however add that the campaign has thus far proved to be effective in the sense that it has piqued the interest of not only those with outstanding fines but also the media.
"It’s early days yet, but so far we’re very pleased with the response. There was huge media interest in the ads, and in the new sanction to assist in payment of fines. Since the ads have run we’ve seen a significant increase in online inquiries and a 20 percent increase in calls to our contact centre."