Thursday, July 3, 2008

selling cars and keeping drivers off roads

For once, let’s assume that selling an expensive sacrifice is not a haloed task, but that it's similar to selling an expensive product.

This may seem to take away the magic of public service advertising, but we have nothing to lose but an award category. The fact is that plasma TVs and expensive cars do sell, while we haven’t really managed to sell safety to the drunk drivers zig zagging across streets.

So the first thing you would do is find an insight that reveals what consumers really want or don’t want.

Why do people drink and drive? Definitely not because they don’t know what could happen if they had an accident. Digging deeper, we might find that:
It’s macho: You think you can hold your alcohol and are totally in control.
Cabs are expensive: It’s much cheaper to drive back than to take a cab, especially if you own a two wheeler.
You don’t know what to do with your car/bike: Parking in a public place overnight is often dangerous. You never know if your car or bike will still be there when you come back the next morning.

Working from these insights, you would then make an offer that makes people get more than they’re giving up.

Here are some, working on the principles of selling expensive things…

Bundled offers: If you’re planning a wild night out, you’re prepared to shell out more than at the neighborhood booze shop. Bars or pubs build in the cost of a driver into the cover charge. Before you stagger towards your parking shpashe, the manager offers you the use of a complimentary driver who gets you home safely.
Another version of this could be shared cabs hired by the bars, which drop people off at closing time. Again, the cost is built into the cover charge.

EMIs: The idea of a designated driver has been executed before, but that doesn’t stop it from being brilliant. You break up the sacrifice into palatable portions, and throw in free snacks for the abstainer.

Special offers with expiry dates: Parking in a public place overnight is often dangerous, because you don’t know if your car or bike will still be there when you return the next morning. So, like the festival offers that clear stocks, a drinking establishment offers to guard your vehicle till 8 am the next morning. The cost to the bar? That of a couple of guards in a designated space.

Cross promos: Bars tie up with malls in this scenario. For an extra charge, you can leave your vehicle overnight in the otherwise empty mall parking space.

Not only will these ideas keep some tipsy drivers off the roads, a lot of people actually would have a lot to gain. Bars would get more customers more often, since even conscientious drivers wouldn’t mind dropping in unplanned. Cab companies would gain business from people who would otherwise have driven back on their own. Malls could generate money out of hibernating parking lots.

The only people who wouldn’t gain directly would be those pitching for the public service category of awards. But look at the brighter side, the services category is much bigger than social service ...

looking for treasure in the wrong places?

Everyone I know loves public service ads. They win awards, make great forwards and spark off interesting conversations.

But that’s not all that public service ads are meant to achieve, at least ostensibly. What they are really supposed to get from you is a sacrifice. A public service campaign almost always wants you to give up money, a habit, a vice, a convenience, a comfort or an element of your social status.

To complicate things, there are different levels of sacrifice. Here are a few, based on what you have to give up.

Clearance sale sacrifice: These are campaigns that ask you to donate to a cause or to report a problem. Great bargain! For the price of a telephone call, a few drinks or clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in anyway, you get to become the fairy godmother of the underprivileged. The fact that so many ngos are flourishing is proof of the fact that this category of public service ads work.

Fair price sacrifice: This is where you’re asked to stop using something, say a brand of lippie or t-shirt, to discourage the abuse of children, animals or the environment. While your ego might twitch a bit at being deprived of the coolest logo on your chest, there’s a built-in escape clause in the form of options. There are other brands on the shelf, and another ice age will have to dawn before you have to expose the world to your parched lips. The result? Several companies have backed off from these evils and are even advertising the face.

Daylight robbery sacrifice: Give up something you love, need or want or suffer, demands the campaign. Hey did you see that great anti-smoking/drinking/drunken driving ad, you ask your friends as you light up, order another round of drinks and look for your car keys.

It’s funny, that when it comes to public service advertising of the third kind, creative people get it sooo wrong. In spite of all the hard hitting campaigns featuring orphaned children, dead horses and scary messages, India still has 120 million smokers And 40% of India’s road accidents are still caused by drunk driving

Is it because the otherwise successful people who work on these campaigns see public service as a totally different ball game from selling products? Or because the objective is more often the means (to be different/hard hitting/creative, etc.) than the end? Is it because there are no clients with an eye on targets and results?

What if public service campaigns that demand an expensive sacrifice used the principles of selling expensive products?