Old-Fashioned, with a Twist

You shouldn’t drink and drive.

It’s hardly news. For the past 35 years, that’s the message Mothers Against Drunk Driving and law enforcement have championed nationwide. It’s also the message that the Department of Highway Safety hired R&R Partners to promote in Utah.

It seems like a simple assignment—advertising something that everybody already knows. However, that widespread knowledge is also the challenge: How does one take a decades-old message that nobody pays attention to anymore and resay it in a way that changes people’s behavior?

The answer to that question recently resulted in news stories across America. Again. R&R Partners’ drunk driving prevention campaign in Utah regularly generates national headlines. The latest buzz was about R&R turning Salt Lake City bar bathrooms into jail cells, letting patrons see what a DUI looks like moments before deciding whether to drive home or call a cab. In one day, a marketing investment of less than $10,000 turned into more than $100,000 worth of local media attention and millions of dollars in news coverage, nationwide.

Drunk people make bad decisions.

Yes, it’s another obvious observation, but it’s also the key to R&R’s drunk driving prevention success. If people get so drunk they can’t remember their names, how can somebody expect them to remember a TV commercial they saw last week telling them not to drink and drive? Instead, R&R Partners has pushed advertising as close as possible to the point of decision—that moment between when people finish their last beer and pull out their car keys.


The results have been bar tables replaced with prison visiting booths reading, “No designated driver? Get used to this view,” complete with working telephones on both sides of the security glass. Kiddie car rides retrofitted to support adults up to 300 pounds and painted like cop cars, along with the message, “Drive drunk and ride in the real thing.” Toll-free numbers to dial and practice your one phone call from jail with a virtual irate mom, girlfriend, lawyer and others. Billiard balls that simulate drunk driving accidents, coin-op photo booths that produce mug shots, toilet stickers with type so small, it’s only legible if your head is buried in the bowl, (“If you can read this, call a cab.”), and dozens more marketing experiences at football tailgate parties, ski resort lodges, state liquor stores, and pretty much anywhere else people might have a few drinks before driving home.

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In addition, billboards near clubs, restaurants, stadiums and bars remind people leaving the parking lots that DUIs result in mandatory arrest, and radio ads (usually heard while driving) run prior to key holiday weekends when drunk driving spikes, like New Year’s Eve and Halloween, letting people know that police will be out in full force, cracking down on DUIs.

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Everyone’s buzzing.

The result of all this point of decision marketing has been surprising. Drunk driving arrests and deaths in Utah have steadily declined since the campaign launched, but that was expected. What nobody knew would happen, however, is that by not running drunk driving television ads and reallocating those funds to more nontraditional marketing executions, the Department of Highway Safety actually increased their presence on TV. By partnering with local businesses, community leaders and sports teams to create innovative DUI prevention messages, R&R Partners also created a steady stream of news coverage that far outweighed what could have been purchased in paid advertising, with approximately $4 in earned media coverage for every dollar spent on the campaign, including agency fees.

For a message that hasn’t been news in decades, you shouldn’t drink and drive, that’s pretty good.

Old-Fashioned, with a Twist was last modified: December 16th, 2015 by Kyle Curtis, Creative Director-Salt Lake City

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