Steering driver behaviour

Ger Tannam, Islandbridge Brand Consultant

Gerard Tannam explains how the Fly the Flag national road safety campaign got underway

When Feargal Quinn addressed the Senate in 1999 on road safety, he did so with a sense of weary resignation. Despite years of official tut-tutting on the scandal of the carnage on Ireland’s roads and various campaigns pleading with people to drive with care, over 400 people were being killed and countless more maimed every year.

How do you change the death-wish of many people hell-bent on fuelling their journeys on a fatal cocktail of alcohol and speeding? Senator Quinn proposed a National Road Safety Weekend, but he must have wondered about the wisdom of three days of campaigning when more than one person a day was killed on our roads.

When the Road Safety Council (RSC) invited me to lead the proposed initiative, I was just off the plane from Hong Kong, where I had served as Inspector of Police for 10 years, while moonlighting as an events manager and art gallery owner. Although a Dubliner born and raised, I was very much a newcomer to the Ireland of 1999.

I was able to assess the damage and its causes with a fresh eye. On top of that, I was the product of our gallery environment, where our exhibition policy meant little room for error in identifying the likely buyers of whichever artworks hung on our walls for 14 days. Blink in our fortnightly shop-window and you’d missed your sale.

Road Safety Authority Don't Look Back by Irish International

Bullseye customer: Years of juggling markets for artworks as varied as oils, photography, ceramics, prints and sculpture in Hong Kong had persuaded Gerard Tannam of the folly of targeting everyone. So with road safety, he zoned in on the driver most likely to kill or maim another person. Pictured is the ‘Don’t Look Behind’ campaign by Irish International.

Now we had a three-day shop-window to work with, albeit on Main Street Ireland, and needed to get buy-in to our safety message speedily. How could our small team devise a national event that would make a difference and save lives? A read through the stories of the people behind the national statistics revealed that the person most likely to kill and the person most likely to die on our roads were one and the same.

It was a 22-year-old male living in a small town in rural Ireland. If we could reach this young man and somehow persuade him to change his behaviour, we could make a real dent in the numbers of people being killed and maimed on our roads. We filled out his profile even further, and determined that he was most likely to be a high-fielding star of his local football team, one admired for his daring exploits on and off the field. But how do you persuade a daredevil to revoke his death wish, when his legendary status demands that he take extraordinary risks?

We found our answer in the relationship between this young killer and his counterpart, the young victim who would die at his hands the next time the two of them took to the road. It is one thing to die with abandon, but to kill another person, perhaps a close friend, in cold blood, that is something entirely different.

In picturing each of these two protagonists deliberately mounting their chargers and embarking on their last, headlong duel to the death, we were reminded of previous combatants entering the lists. It brought to mind the practice of those knights of old displaying white on their sword arm in an effort to say they came in peace.

When I fly the white flag, I will do you no harm. The next steps were simple. With help from Scouting Ireland, we asked retailers to offer the white pennant for display on car aerials and jackets that would assure those on our roads that ‘I will do you no harm’ over the three days of that October Bank Holiday weekend.

Three of Ireland’s leading dance music acts were asked to remix the old classroom favourite, The Safe Cross Code, and release it on a white label into dance clubs – complete with Judge-inspired artwork. Ford-sponsored Fly The Flag displays were mounted on major roundabouts and junctions around the country.

Even though the campaign coverage was somewhat hit-and-miss, our message to our young target driver obviously struck the mark and road deaths over the weekend and in the winter months that followed fell by almost 40 per cent. Fly The Flag offered a blueprint for the various road safety campaigns that followed in later years.

It sparked a still too-slow but steady decline in road deaths from over 400 a year in 1999 to just under 170 these past three years. That first campaign back in Ireland confirmed two things for me: that my future lay in bridging the gap between buyers and sellers through brand development and that picturing your ideal customer from the outset means you stand a much greater chance of influencing choice.

Gerard Tannam leads Islandbridge Brand Development, specialists in building relationships between buyers and sellers. He has a regular slot on The Right Hook on Newstalk

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