5 Brain Based Reasons Why This Is An Incredibly Powerful PSA

Don’t text and drive!

If you’ve not seen this very graphic video before, I strongly suggest that you watch this 4 minute clip before reading my comments. It is part of a 30 minute film made by Tredegar Comprehensive School and Gwent Police (Gwent is located in south-east Wales,UK) entitled “COW –The film that will stop you from texting and driving,” and written and directed by Peter Watkins-Hughes. The clip stands on its own as an incredibly powerful message and it’s compelling for a number of reasons that might inform us about really effective messaging. It has been acclaimed as a potent influence on driver behavior.

5 Reasons Why This Is So Powerful

  1. From the brain’s perspective, experience is king. If you want to make a point, or certainly get people to change their behavior, experience is far more powerful than words. If you can’t get people to experience the real thing ( and hopefully you wouldn’t in this case!) watching it is the next best thing. There’s evidence that watching an event like this uses some of the same neural pathways that would be involved if you were actually in the real situation.
  2. Visual processing creates experience far better then verbal processing. A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is a thousand pictures, a graphic video is worth…what do you think?
  3. Verbal processing can actually inhibit experience.The fact that there’s no running commentary, commentary at all or tag line, makes this even more powerful in my view.
  4. If you want to get people to curtail a behavior, you need to focus on the negative consequences of that behavior in the most memorable way. The emotional components of a memory are critical in the ability to, and intensity of, recall. The more emotional the experience, the better the memory is.The clip focuses on the negative consequences in a way that assaults the senses: the jolting crush of the metal, the anguish of the screams, the helplessness of the bystanders, the silence of the parents as their daughter implores them to wake up, the implied gravity of the hovering medevac helicopters.
  5. As it stands this isn’t a pitch, it’s an experience, which I believe amplifies its power. Obviously the filmmaker is trying to make a point, but that wasn’t inherent in my experience of watching this video. This allowed me, at least, to experience it rather than analyze it.

All of the above, and no doubt others some of you can come up with, make this an extraordinarily powerful message that I believe would have significant impact on driver behavior, and it apparently has. I suspect it is something that would be remembered far more vividly and frequently than a message that has verbal elements, statistics, talking head experts, etc.

What do you think? If you just had 4:16 to make this message would you modify it at all, and if so, how? Oh, in case you wondering, it was made on a budget of about $15,000.

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2 responses to “5 Brain Based Reasons Why This Is An Incredibly Powerful PSA”

  1. Lee Simons says :

    Wow. Thanks for posting. I would always have agreed with you regarding the importance of the “negative” side of social marketing message. I like the way you have so succinctly put it though: the experience is indeed king, and when you somehow emulate the neural processing that an experience could/would create, you’ve reached your audience at a different level–Medium is the message and all that. . . .

    One thing I wonder, however, how do you deal with the detractors who invariably see this, and others similar, as too graphic? Too negative (I don’t agree with them of course, but I know that my organization would NEVER embrace something like this).

    Also, it really would be good to have the analytics on this piece/campaign.

    • drhowardrankin says :

      My view would be that sometimes to get an effect you have to be graphic. Obviously the balance here between effectiveness and whatever criteria you are using for “appropriateness” needs to be struck and I think that would differ on topic and the importance of the target behavior. I think this graphic level is appropriate for driving/texting. I believe the youtube clip has close to 2 million views since its release a couple of years ago, and the documentary actually has won at least one award.

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