Cultural Differences in the Dissuasion of Drunk Driving

Stephanie Halgren

Have you ever seen an anti-DUI commercial that displays horrific car crashes resulting in crushed metal and graphic imagery?

My guess would be no, unless you have spent a significant amount of time abroad. Unlike their American counterparts, European anti-drunk driving advertisements invoke fear and tug at heartstrings to promote safe driving. The question of the day is which method is more effective and why?

Comparing Drunk Driving Commercials

Take a look at this ubiquitous American campaign by National Highway Safety Administration. In this clip, drunk drivers who swerve their cars along the road are subsequently pulled over by the police and arrested, which emphasizes the legal consequences for drunk driving. However, this commercial’s tagline: “Over the limit. Under arrest” fails to emphasize the multitude of other more severe consequences that result from drunk driving.

WARNING: Contains graphic content

Now take a look at this clip. The majority of this British safe driving commercial avoids any alcohol associations, as it evokes goals via unconscious methods by showing how a little boy playing in the backyard could become a talented soccer player. Soft and soothing music in the background suggests a promising and ideal future.

However, the music stops and the goals are dashed with the vivid depiction of a car crash resulting from drunk driving. Most importantly, this commercial shows the extensive impacts of drunk driving—although the driver is injured, he has also ended a small child’s life and destroyed a family’s tranquil existence. The conclusion of this advertisement leaves the viewer with the sentiment that he or she has a responsibility to protect society by refusing to drive under the influence.

Is Fear Evocation Appropriate?

Which campaign do you find more effective? According to Hastings, Stead, and Webb (2004), it seems that fear-arousing advertisements (such as the British commercial) raise awareness and change attitudes. However, some people dislike these advertisements because they arouse anxiety and other uncomfortable emotions without the viewer’s consent.

Fear tactics in marketing can fail to illicit change because viewers avoid identifying with the advertised material or through habituation, annoyance, or tuning out. Instead, Hastings, Stead, and Webb (2004) support marketing campaigns that evoke positive emotion to encourage change without determent. Regardless, the ultimate question concerns whether fear tactics in marketing are advantageous in a specific situation when compared to alternative methods.

In this instance, are graphic safe driving marketing campaigns necessary to convince people of the horrors of drunk driving? The combination of a fine and some jail time (the implied punishment in the American commercial) is nothing when you compare it to the termination of human lives. Comments on YouTube reveal that people find the American commercial humorous, while they are struck by the power of the British version.

Humor simply diminishes the dangers of drunk driving, so the American version of this commercial allows viewers to forget about the commercial and continue driving under the influence. It seems that people find the serious and realistic images of the British commercial to be more effective, but they may also cause people to look away from the television and ignore the message.

Questions for the reader: Is the British version of the safe driving commercial a stronger marketing campaign? Is fear evocation acceptable in the promotion of safe driving behavior? Is fear evocation acceptable in all other circumstances (such as product advertisements for home alarm systems)? If not, what are those situations, and why is fear evocation inappropriate in them?

Hastings, G., Stead, M., & Webb, J. (2004). Fear appeals in social marketing: Strategic and ethical reasons for concern. Psychology and Marketing, 21(11), 961-986.

1 Comment

  • Meghan Meghan says:

    Really good article – and timely with the July 4th holiday.

    I think the question of which ad is most effective is a tough call to make. I’m not sure if either the American or British ad is the best way to go. I agree that the American ad is quite humorous (but memorable), but doesn’t convey the severity of drunk driving. However, the problem that I see with the British ad – besides people tuning out due to the graphic nature – is that people won’t see themselves doing that. I think people can picture the legal ramifications (getting pulled over, a ticket, etc.), but think that they would never be so irresponsible to injure or kill another human being. People get the shock factor, but it’s so out of their realm of possibilities that it doesn’t resonate.

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