Oct 9, 2010

What do we value more? Good taste or saving young lives?


Last May there was uproar in the media about an advertising campaign planned by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).  The Insurance Corporation was targeting young drivers with a racy campaign to persuade them not to drink and drive.   The then Solicitor General Kash Heed put the kibosh on the campaign that had cost $1.7 million to develop.  He, and then Mike De Jong who followed him in the post, felt the auto-erotic theme of one of the ads was too offensive to go on the air.

The ads showed young men in embarrassing situations being interrupted by the police.  One risqué ad showed a lone teenage male in a locker room furtively using a tape measure, with the implication that he was measuring the length of his body parts.  The message in the ad was that getting caught drinking and driving was just as embarrassing as being, well, caught with your pants down.

The NDP demanded to know why the ads hadn’t been killed before $1.7 million had been spent developing them.

I think the government made the wrong decision and the NDP asked the wrong question.  A better question would have been, would these ads have helped stop young people from killing themselves on our roads?

No one spends millions of dollars on ad campaigns without doing public opinion research to find out if the ads are effective and worth the money.  ICBC is no exception.  In response to my FOI request, the Corporation released the results of two sets of focus groups.  In focus groups small groups of people are asked for their opinions and insights into an idea, a product, or in this case, an advertising campaign.

Last summer InQuest Consumer Insights and Planning held five focus groups in July to provide insights into developing an advertising campaign.  In November Ipsos conducted three focus groups to get opinions on the soon to be controversial advertising campaign.

Among the findings was that the biggest deterrent to drinking and driving was the fear of getting caught.  The risk of crashing simply didn’t enter peoples’ minds because “it won’t happen to me.”  Younger males were fearful of being caught doing something embarrassing.  “It was the fear of parents that was most evident,” and “Additionally, if being caught in the act of doing something brought disrespect to the family, that also evoked fear.”

The people in the focus groups were not offended by the suggestive campaign.  Ipsos found the campaign, “clearly resonates among all the respondents, younger and older.  There was a belief that it could encourage people to talk about the issue of drinking and driving.”

In 2008, 47 of the 225 people killed in car accidents in BC were between the ages of 15 and 24.  Many more had their lives ruined with permanent injuries.  A study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation found that in 2007 alcohol was involved in more than 90% of traffic fatalities.  For people between the ages of 16 and 19 the figures was 100%.

Older people in the focus group said they had no problem with their children being exposed to the ads, but there is no doubt many people would find the ads in poor taste. 

So how do we balance it out – poor taste vs. perhaps saving young lives?  I think our elected officials on both sides of the chamber made a very serious error when they decided poor taste was more important.

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