The Generosity Journal: David Thomason

As part of our series with the One Percent Collective that’s dedicated to celebrating good work and inspiring a bit more generosity, David Thomason, FCB’s head of planning, lavishes praise on NZTA and Clemenger BBDO’s ‘Mistakes’. 

I’m reluctant to admit that Clemenger’s ‘Mistakes’ TVC for NZTA is one of my favourite ads. That’s partly because Clems has already been picked out for the Generosity Journal by Mr Worthington, who admired ‘Blazed As’. And it’s partly because we’re so proud of our own social marketing expertise at FCB.

I’m also aware it would be much cooler for a planner to nominate something more progressive than a television commercial that’s already won creative accolades. But this ad really is exceptionally good.

Yes, it’s very well produced [by Finch]. As with most work in this genre, the scenario feels extremely real, despite the clever suspension of the laws of physics.

The acting is perfectly understated and emotive. We feel the helplessness of the father when he politely protests, “Please, I’ve got my boy in the back”. 

But what leads me to rate it higher than Blazed is that it’s not an interesting or unusual challenge. There was no fresh attention-grabbing topic to kick off the process. Quite the opposite. This is a brief that agencies all around the world have faced numerous times: how can we convince fully-grown men, who believe they’re very good drivers (and possibly are), own well-maintained late-model cars and drive on good roads that they know like the back of their hands that they still need to slow down?

We’ve seen countless attempts. But this particular audience remains largely unconvinced, even aggressively defensive. They know all about driving. They know how to scan the road ahead, position their hands on the wheel, line up the apex of a corner and get their braking done before they reach it. They’ve regularly ventured above the speed limit for 20 years, yet never had a serious accident, at least not one they’ve caused. So the situations depicted in these ads couldn’t possibly apply to them. And unless campaigns target young inexperienced hoons, they’re just wasteful, political, revenue-gathering exercises.

There’s also an influential and dangerous audience subset to consider: the motoring journalists who have actively campaigned against these speed messages. For reasons such as those above, they’ve long encouraged their readers to reject any genuine connection with road safety.

So I realised that there’d been a bit of a break-through when even cynical journalists started making positive and even admiring comments about the campaign.

So what makes this ad particularly effective (I do believe it will be effective. It generally takes a long time to change ingrained habits but I’m sure it will already be changing attitudes, and it is an Effie finalist)? 

‘Mistakes’ probably follows all the NZTA rules (there literally was a blueprint written on how to best do these road safety ads), yet still finds a completely new way to get us thinking.

I believe that’s because it doesn’t attack the speeder. It doesn’t suggest that they’re a bad driver. It doesn’t even suggest they’ve caused the accident. I realise NZTA don’t like the word ‘accident’, because it suggests such events are a matter of luck, and might allow those involved to dodge responsibility or blame. But I can’t help thinking that’s exactly why this ad works. ‘Mistakes’ allows the audience to reconsider their behaviour while leaving their precious ‘good driver’ identity unchallenged.

It reminds me of something my father proudly, and repeatedly, recited to me as a 16-year-old learner driver: “Slow down, it’s the other idiot you have to watch out for.” Back then I think I may have missed the significance of the word ‘other’, so dad also succeeded nicely in using flattery to get an important safety message across.

  • The One Percent Collective is all about a lot of people giving a little to make it easier for its selected charities (and charities in general). It could be, for example, donating one percent of your total income, one percent of the door takings from an event or one percent commission on a month’s sales. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be financial. It’s also looking for people to donate time, expertise and awareness to the cause, so check out some of the ways individuals, artists and businesses can help here
  • If you want to contribute to The Generosity Journal, or have any suggestions about others who might be keen, email us at [email protected] 

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