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What is a road safety publicity campaign?

A road safety publicity campaign is part of a set of activities that aim to promote safe road use. Campaigns are of three types:

  1. To raise awareness of an issue or to inform (for example about new laws)
  2. To change attitudes (for example to improve public acceptance of road safety measures)
  3. To change behaviour, as part of a package of measures (for example engineering and/or enforcement related to speeding).

Mass media advertising is often the most visible component of a campaign, however to be effective in changing behaviour, this must be combined with government and/or community support, which must be visible when involving law enforcement. It is important to recognise this link. The effectiveness of publicity campaigns when they are backed up by enforcement is shown by substantial reductions in drunk driving in Australia and Europe and increased seat belt use in the USA.

A campaign is important to lift the profile of a road safety problem, say speeding, as a legal/criminal issue, and to make drivers aware of the risk of prosecution. For example, publicity about the number of deaths and injuries caused by speeding, combined with information about how lower speeds reduce the number of deaths and injuries, may change attitudes to speeding, or make lower speed limits and higher penalties for infringements more acceptable. But the link with law enforcement is essential. The fear of being caught and penalized for traffic offences appears to be a more powerful motive for reducing speed than the fear of being involved in a crash.

It may be necessary to run a campaign to inform the public about a new law (for example, blood alcohol levels) before it is enforced, in order both to explain the reasons for the new law, and to give legitimacy to police activity in its enforcement. In this case the direct impact of the campaign (on drink-driving) may be small, but informing the public about the reasons for a law, and how it will be implemented, is a prerequisite to its enforcement in most societies.

Are campaigns effective?

Research shows that a road safety publicity campaign, by itself, has only modest impact on attitudes and behaviour and no significant impact on crashes. Campaigns work best when combined with other interventions, such as enforcement of traffic laws and regulations, or provision of other safety services and products. A useful summary of a statistical analysis of the impact of campaigns on crashes is given in Delhomme (2002) - but note that none of the cases studied are in developing countries.

Road safety campaigns are generally more demanding than commercial marketing campaigns. They often attempt to change behaviour, rather than encourage consumption of a new product or a change of brand. In some cases, they are trying to persuade people to give up a behaviour that they enjoy, such as drinking (when they will be driving afterwards), while in others they are asking people to do things that are seen as inconvenient, such as driving more slowly.

It is useful to apply social marketing principles to identify road users' needs and to find linkages to safety. Well planned and targeted campaigns are more likely to encourage personal commitment. Otherwise, individuals may see little or no relevance to themselves in adopting a changed behaviour and their direct personal experience may run counter to the evidence being presented. For example, a driver who has regularly exceeded the speed limit and has yet to be involved in a crash does not readily accept that the statistical evidence linking speed and risk applies to him. This illustrates why it is important to link most publicity campaigns with law enforcement in order to achieve the desired change in behaviour.

The elements of a campaign

Simple messages which use realistic scenarios have been found to be the most effective. However account must be taken of the local context. For example, the use of explicit images of injured persons, whilst hard hitting and attention-grabbing in some societies, can offend and cause people to switch off in other places.

The following can be considered as the elements of a publicity campaign which need to be considered in the planning stage:

  • Target behaviour
  • Target audience
  • Appeals to motivate the audience
  • Message content
  • Audience activation
  • Media selection
  • Campaign timing

Implementing a campaign

  1. Define the problem. Base the campaign on information. Determine the behavioural factors involved in the type of crash or injury under investigation. Define the key features of the behaviour to be addressed. Identify the target group. Assess the social context for the campaign. Consider relevant research and analyse what has worked before and elsewhere. Identify the complementary government and/or community interventions required to support the desired change in behaviour.
  2. Determine objectives. The campaign objectives should be specific. They should always be linked to a measurable behaviour change. The objectives can be about shifting community understanding and support for government policies - such as wearing a seat belt or helmet - or about what to do to improve safety, such as driving more slowly.
  3. Agree supporting activities. Political support is essential, at the national or local level depending on the issues. Identify the key interventions required to support the desired change in behaviour and the organisations responsible. The police are generally the most important. They are essential partners for campaigns targeting anti-drink drive, anti-speeding and seat belt and helmet wearing, especially when laws are in place that provides effective sanctions for non-compliance. High profile policing can send a powerful deterrent message.
  4. Define a manager. Successful campaigns are normally managed by a lead agency in consultation with other stakeholders. The lead agency is usually the responsible government department, a national road safety council, or a road safety non-governmental organization. Credibility is crucial. Those conducting and designing the campaign must be seen to be both knowledgeable and impartial.
  5. Use the right skills. Road safety publicity campaigns require a combination of skills. Specialists with behavioural and social science skills should design the content of the campaign and identify the target audience and messages. Delivering the message requires marketing, social advocacy and advertising skills. Project management skills are needed to deliver the campaign on time and within budget.
  6. Communications brief. Summarize the behavioural and social objectives of the campaign, the supporting government/community interventions, the target audience and the scope of the campaign. Outline a communications strategy, based on market segmentation and targeting, and the resources available to support the campaign.
  7. Appoint an agency. Recruit an advertising agency to design the campaign in collaboration with the lead agency. It may also be necessary to recruit an independent market research company to help design the campaign.
  8. Develop the campaign. Seek creative ideas on how to convey the messages - keep them simple, clear and few. Test creative concepts on a pilot sample of the main target audience and use the feedback to finalize the campaign. Research is crucial to developing effective approaches and they are likely to vary for different target groups in different cultures. Other government, community and police supporting actions should be planned in conjunction with the campaign.
  9. Deliver the campaign. Launch the campaign at a high profile media event, complemented by extensive advertising. Keep stakeholders informed of progress so that they can reinforce the key message when opportunities arise.
  10. Utilise 'free' publicity. It is often possible to place editorials and stories in the press to back up paid advertising. There may also be public service radio and TV available, although the market penetration of these services is often limited.
  11. Evaluate the impact. All major campaigns should be evaluated. This is often done through a pre- and post-campaign survey. Measure behavioural changes, such as improved seat belt or helmet wearing, or reduced speeds. However, sustainable behavioural changes take time to achieve. Short-term changes should be treated cautiously and surveys should also be done long after the campaign launch. These inform decisions about the time intervals between campaigns, for example how frequently to run adverts on TV.

Emerging good practice

Anti-drink drive campaigns and random breath testing.The Australian States of New South Wales and Victoria have conducted anti-drink drive campaigns continually since the early 1980s when .05 blood alcohol restrictions and random breath testing began. The style and content of the advertising has varied over the years. However, the key to success has been high profile police operations combined with publicity, about the likelihood of being detected and arrested for driving while affected by alcohol.

This successful approach can be considered a blueprint in countries where hard-hitting images are socially acceptable, with the following features:

  • hard-hitting publicity, based on emotional and physical consequences of being penalized for breaking the law, or being injured in a crash;
  • a stress enforcement activities;
  • an advertising approach which is:
    • realistic;
    • non-judgemental;
    • convincing and not apologetic; and
    • contains as much emotion as possible
  • testing of concepts on target groups before proceeding with the full campaign;
  • tracking how the target group(s) is responding by monitoring:
    • changes in attitudes;
    • changes in behaviour;
    • recall and relevance of the messages; and
    • changes in crash patterns

UK Department for Transport THINK!

The THINK! campaign is a component of the UK Department for Transport's road safety strategy, aimed at a 40 per cent reduction in death and serious injuries on the road by 2010. THINK! is a road safety banner for all campaigns, aiming to create a greater public awareness of road safety issues. Underpinned by a annual calendar of publicity on television, radio, press, posters and other media, the campaign is heavily supported at the local level by police and local authorities, as well as voluntary and private sector organizations. See for details and examples.

How fast are you going now?

In New South Wales, Australia, speeding is a factor in 40 per cent of fatal crashes. A 'community dialogue' approach was adopted in 1991, designed to foster debate on speed and speed related government policy and practices. As a result, social attitudes to speed enforcement and penalties have shifted over the last ten years, enabling the government to introduce a range of strong, anti-speeding regulatory changes. Reduced urban speed limits, more enforcement by the police and higher penalties, combined with publicity, have resulted in reductions in speeds and in some cases significant reductions in road injury.

ASPHEPHE (Zulu for 'Let us be safe')

This project in KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa addressed the problems of drinking, driving and speeding. It combined a public education element based on dramatic television advertising (adapted from the Australian emotional advertisements) with strong enforcement and new enforcement technologies. It resulted in improved compliance and less public criticisms of police 'revenue raising'. In the 2-year period following the campaign there was a 35 per cent reduction in road fatalities in the province compared with 17 per cent for the rest of the country. (Note: whilst there may be concerns about the reporting of crash data in South Africa, as elsewhere, the relative impact (18% greater reduction in the province) is consistent with statistically robust studies in Europe, as reported by Delhomme 2002)

Find out more

ANDREASEN, A. (1995) Marketing Social Change: Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social Development, and the Environment. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco
This source discusses key issues in marketing social issues, focussing on the objectives of social and behavioural change.

BACKER, T. ROGERS, E. & SOPORY, P. (1992) Designing Health Communication Campaigns: What Works. Sage: Newbury Park.
A good source of advice on how to frame health and safety messages and other aspects of planning campaigns.

DELHOMME, P (1999) Evaluation of Road Safety Media Campaigns. Deliverable 4. GADGET project. European Commission/INRETS, France
This report reviews 265 campaign evaluations in 21 countries (although none are developing countries). It shows the importance of the link with enforcement.

DELHOMME, P (2002) Some Criteria for Running Successful Camapigns. PRI Road Safety Forum 2002. PRI. Lisbon.
A summary of the findings from the GADGET project cited above.

EPSTEIN, T. S (editor) (1999) A Manual for Culturally-Adapted Social Marketing. Sage: New Delhi
A good reference for ensuring campaigns are planned and implemented in ways that are culturally appropriate.

MAIBACH, E. & PARROTT, R (editors) (1995) Designing Health Messages: Approaches from Communication Theory and Public Health Practice. Sage: Thousand Oaks
This source covers a range of campaign issues and considerations. Used in communication courses, this is effectively a textbook in health and safety communications.

MYERS, D (2000) The KwaZulu Natal Road Safety Project - Enforcement, Technology and the Community. Proc. Road Safety Research, Policing & Education Conference, November 2000. Brisbane, Australia. Sponsored by RACQ and CARRSQ.

ROSSITER, J.R., PERCY, L & DONOVAN, R. (1995) Advertising and Promotion Management 2nd edition, New York: McGraw-Hill
This work uses a model of the factors, which change behaviour and integrates this with the advertising and promotion planning process.