Life or Death Marketing

Monday, August 1, 2011 - 08:18

Tasked with the responsibility of saving lives, Victoria's Transport Accident Commission leads the way in social marketing innovation.

Early this year the tiny town of Speed in northern Victoria temporarily changed its name to 'Speedkills'.

The quirky new title was the result of a sponsorship by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). But how great would be the marketing effect of the temporary changing of a town's name when the town itself only contained 45 people?

Enormous, says TAC's Senior Manager, Road & Safety Marketing, John Thompson. The recipe for marketing success simply required a small pinch of social media.

"We did a Facebook campaign but we did it remotely so to the public it looked as if the town was organising everything," he says.

"We allowed the town to own the idea and run with it and they were very much on board because country Victoria has a lot of road fatalities. They established a Facebook page and we shot a few community service announcements that we put on YouTube.

"We launched it all through social media. They had to get 10,000 'likes' [individuals who click the 'like' button on the Speedkills page], and if they could do that then the town would change its name and TAC would give some money to the Lions Club. We thought it might take a few weeks to earn that many likes, but they achieved the target in nine hours."

Media coverage

Media coverage was immediate, including major newspapers, television and radio. During an interview with a popular morning radio show on Melbourne's 3AW, one of the presenters asked the interviewee, town local Phil Down, whether he'd change his name to Phil 'Slow' Down if the number of likes rose to 35,000, and if TAC doubled their donation. Phil and his family agreed to change their name and the Facebook fan numbers continued to surge.

"Once the media got on to it, the growth was just organic," Thompson says. "We didn't set up the Phil Down stunt, it just happened. Suddenly the campaign received international coverage. There was even a Japanese TV crew that visited the town."

Innovative marketing is nothing new for TAC. After all, the organisation in its various historic forms has been altering perceptions for several decades. In 1971, Thompson says, when the state's annual road toll for Victoria alone was over 1000 - these days it's closer to 100 - the Victorian Government was the first in the world to make seatbelts mandatory.

More recently, following a 2006 TAC campaign, the legislative framework for vehicles was changed to make electronic stability control mandatory in all vehicles registered in Victoria. It's an achievement that governments and safety bodies around the world have taken notice of, and many have approached TAC to ask how they might accomplish the same result.

Raw and real

In his line of work, Thompson says, innovation is everything; his one and only KPI is the number of people that die on the roads each year. Hunter Leonard, author of Marketing has no off switch!, says TAC's marketing brilliance is not just about their seamless integration with social media, but, more importantly, the fact that they successfully appeal to emotion rather than simply trying to push a message.

Take, for example, TAC's 2010 campaign known as The Ripple Effect. After a real-life fatal car accident in which the young driver died and his passengers survived, film crews interviewed around 60 people who were somehow affected, from the driver's parents and friends to the car's other occupants, the driver's workmates, emergency crews, and so on.

The interviews were raw, real and completely unscripted. They were made into TV ads and online commercials, compiled at, that users were prompted to connect to their Facebook page. They would then see, compiled from their 'friends' list, a diagram of the people who'd be affected by their own death.

"The TAC has broadened the message to say that it's not just your own death you have to worry about, but, in fact, your behaviour affects a lot of people," Leonard says. "They have made people realise there is a big cost associated with speed. People may not listen to a message that says 'Don't speed or we will fine you', but a message that says, 'If you speed then here's how your mum will be hurt' is going to get through to people."

Marketing success

The success of the TAC's campaigns is evinced by the statistics. Thompson's seven years at the helm of the Road & Safety Marketing division have all seen record low numbers of deaths on Victorian roads.

"Having the road toll as your KPI is a terrible thing," Thompson says. "But such a serious goal does assist innovation and these days the innovation is in social media. In being innovative we have changed behaviours and, therefore, we've saved lives."

Leonard is enormously impressed with the campaigns produced each year by TAC.

"Any campaign that has some appeal beyond the product or the basic technical factors of the brand is going to be more successful because they engage people," he says.

"Fortunately their target audience, young people who drive, are heavy social media users. It has tapped into the social behaviour of that group and made it fine for teenagers to take on the role of mum or dad by taking care of their mates."