NZTA and Clems aim to reinvent the wheel with new approach to road safety

Over the years, the worst case scenario approach has typically been favoured to drum home road safety messages in New Zealand. And a degree of complacency has now developed among some who simply block those messages out. But the new ‘Drive Social’ campaign by NZTA and Clemenger BBDO has moved away from targeting specific groups with blood and guts and into targeting all drivers with warm fuzzies. 

At first glance it seems like it could be a campaign to promote ride-sharing or maybe even a clever, useful app like Waze, which would both be good additions to New Zealand’s—and particularly Auckland’s—driving landscape, but it’s actually an initiative aimed at fundamentally changing the way drivers think about the road and the people they share it with. 

NZTA media manager Andy Knackstedt wasn’t able to be contacted, but according to the website, the campaign, which is part of the Government’s Safer Journeys strategy, applies the Safe System approach to make the whole transport system more accommodating of human error and make road users more tolerant of one another, something that requires shared responsibility between road users, transport system designers and influencers.

“Because making up your own mind is far more effective than getting told”, the campaign centres around a question: ”If we stopped thinking ‘cars’ and started thinking ‘people’, would it change the way we drive?” This idea was tested, and the answer was a resounding yes. Hence this new, warmer and more human approach. 

As the release says: “People are a friendly bunch: polite, patient and accommodating. But put us behind the wheel and it can be a different story. This campaign plays on an insight that we behave differently in our cars. It encourages people to step back and look at ‘driving’ from a different perspective. It reframes ‘driving’ from a solo pursuit to an activity that is much more social.”


The TV ad launched last week and it begins with a group of strangers standing on a road. As the sun rises they begin to warm to one another. Introductions are made, hands are shaken and the group comes together for a photo. At this point it’s revealed that they are, in fact, commuters who share the same stretch of road every morning.

“If we accept the idea that the road is a social space and that the people we share the road with are part of our community, then we have to accept that the way we behave on the road has an impact on the whole community, and that the way we drive affects everyone else,” says NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield. 

All of the campaign’s advertising drives people through to the impressive drivesocial.co.nz website, a Facebook-connected site also made by Clemenger BBDO that invites users to find out who they’re sharing the road with and offers a host of interesting driving-related stats to compare your commute with. 

Almost the opposite of NZTA and Clems’ last Facebook-related campaign, an online driving game in which drivers had their life flash before their eyes, the experience collects and compares the drive you do most often: the morning commute (it seems as though those who don’t drive a car and prefer human powered transport need not apply and as the only comment on the YouTube video says, the optimists might be hoping this idea goes further than just road safety: “If we stopped thinking ‘cars’ and started thinking ‘people’, we would likely build our cities quite differently”). Then it draws from Facebook data and shows road users what they have in common with each other and it culminates in a live, personalised, shareable one-page summary; a snapshot of a driving community that travels on the same roads, at the same time, every weekday morning. The website, which works on mobile, tablet and desktop, then allows people to join a community where they can discover something about the other people who drive on the same roads as them.

This approach taps into strong social media trends to find connections between people and shared interests like music and favourite radio stations. And it will also encourage online sharing through Facebook to help generate comments and conversations.  

“The more we can get everyone to think ‘people’ instead of thinking ‘cars’, the more likely we’ll all be able to see how our own behaviour affects others,” Dangerfield says.

As well as TV and the drivesocial.co.nz site, the campaign also includes social media, radio, online, bus-backs and other outdoor advertising.

The radio campaign, which is running across 16 stations, kicks off with a nationwide broadcast, with an announcer appealling to all New Zealanders and asking them to Drive Social. The campaign continues with talkback discussions, DJ ad-libs, and a series of station-specific Drive Social summary pages on each station’s Facebook page. The radio presenters even lend their voices to the cause, featuring in the online experience as narrators.

While the NZTA website says there will always be a need to highlight unsafe driving practices and a need to target at-risk audiences, part of effective advertising is to keep campaigns fresh and surprising. Providing audiences with the potential consequences of their actions, and the tools to prevent those consequences, is still relevant. But Drive Social is the first step in an ongoing marketing strategy. 

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