Cannes Lions

The Road Whisperer

VMLY&R, London / DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT / 2019

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Demo Film

Overview

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Credits

Overview

Background

1 in 5 drivers crash in their first year behind the wheel. Through research we found that young guys were particularly vulnerable, not accepting their inexperience at times when they were exposed to tricky situations like driving on country roads, at night and on busy roundabouts. But we also exposed a chink in their armour – a suppressed nervousness.

For this young, hard-to-read audience of young male drivers, the timeworn tactics of shock and horror wouldn’t change their attitudes and behaviour - but a campaign that offered humour, light-heartedness, and a voice on their level might. In fact, we needed to sound nothing at all like the British government.

Our objective was simple: to reduce their risk on the road we needed young men to accept their inexperience and offer them some useful tips along the way. After all, it takes time to learn the ways of the road.

Idea

1 in 5 drivers crash in their first year behind the wheel. For this young, hard-to-read audience of young male drivers, the timeworn tactics of shock and horror wouldn’t change their attitudes and behaviour - but a campaign that offered humour, light-heartedness, and a voice on their level might. In fact, we needed to sound nothing at all like the British government.

We created the character The Road Whisperer to speak to new drivers. He was born in a truck-stop, raised by Route 66, and knows the ways of the road like the back of his tattooed knuckles. Part spirit guide and part mad uncle, he appears to new drivers in their time of need to serve up road wisdom for a range of dangerous driving scenarios. With his warm he demeanour encourages new drivers to accept their nervousness and heed his safety tips. His American accent and charisma were

Strategy

We planned to start by creating a content series fronted by the Road Whisperer, which tackles those bum-clenching moments that nervy newbies don’t like to admit are really nervy. The Road Whisperer would appear at new drivers’ times of need, for example, their first busy roundabout or motorway, with some sage situational advice.

Our current social profiles were inundated with government or charity followers. We needed a dedicated home for young drivers, so we turned to their place of expression: Instagram. The backbone to our content would come in the form of 9 key tip films and gifs and enough production footage for an endless bank of posts and memes. The films would also be tailored to video-on-demand and cinema, and paid media would support edits for Snapchat and Twitter.

A partnership with social publisher Ladbible would also kickstart the conversation, creating content that started normalising nervousness amongst this group.

Execution

The films and GIFs evoked classic American movies, like Tarantino or the Coen Brothers, and we used surreal humour to cut through to young men. Quirky, charming and kebab-munching, the Road Whisperer acknowledges the vulnerability that lies at the heart of all new drivers. He admits he “had a sphincter like a limpet” when he began driving at night, empathizing with new drivers and settling their nerves with relatable humour. He then gives new drivers a slice of advice for the road, and only disappears when he sees his wisdom has been taken up.

The campaign launched in with a range of films and GIFs across social, video on demand, cinema, and digital. These included country roads, night driving, observation at junctions, driving in the rain, handling busy roundabouts, driving on motorways, looking after your tyres, and how to deal with winter ice.

The executions were tailored to their platform. Our Instagram profile acts as a driving school for scoundrels, filling it with humorous, shareable driving tips. On Facebook, the Whisperer appeared to new drivers shortly after they’d passed their driving test. On Twitter, we used GIFs and the Whisperer’s persona to have conversations with our target audience. In VOD, we dressed our films up as miniature movies, stopping viewers in their tracks.

We also run adverts in FirstCar magazines, which all driving test candidates get a copy of from the driving examiner on completion of their test, pass or fail. Over 3 months this is over 600k people.

Our partnership with Ladbible involved an Insta story about young driver nervousness. A further film was created – ‘Honest Subtitles’ – a relatable commentary of what new drivers are really thinking when they take their mate out for a spin. These acted to make vulnerability more acceptable amongst voices they trust.

Outcome

The campaign received over 12 million views in its first week, and after a month the Road Whisperer had firmly established himself as a cultural phenomenon. Young men bought his iconic cap off Amazon, quoted his lines and listened to his music (surely a first for a stock music library track). Someone even made an appreciation page for his pet ferret, Skippy.

Most importantly, social media was flooded with new drivers admitting to their nervousness on the road. It is too soon to determine the extent to which the campaign has lowered the number of car accidents, but never before has a Think! campaign has been received so positively.

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