America has a gun problem, but New Zealand has a road problem. In 2017, 380 people died on New Zealand’s roads. That’s up from 327 in 2016 and up by almost 50% since 2013 (253 deaths).

The only reason to advertise is to generate a result. I’ll be the first to say that this is often difficult to measure. There are numerous factors at play in every case, from environment to competitor activity to consumer apathy. But regardless, you’ll be hard pressed to find any advertiser saying they don’t care about the outcome of a campaign. Money is spent on advertising to generate results, and for the vast majority of businesses this takes the form of a financial benefit. But sometimes, the benefit is far more important than money.

And that’s where the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) comes in. The NZTA website states that it spends $13 million per year on advertising, and that this bolsters the funding of $300 million spent on police strategic enforcement.

With their $13 million budget, the NZTA uses advertising to “raise driver awareness of road safety issues and change unsafe driver behaviour”. The NZTA also states “…while an advertising campaign can affect public awareness and attitudes and influence behaviour change, advertising alone does not result in reduced crashes, deaths or serious injuries – it has never claimed to”. That’s a terrible viewpoint.

Advertising is one of the most powerful influencers of modern times. Remember when monolithic international advertising agencies got people to smoke cigarettes?  These advertising agencies literally got people to kill themselves! Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that advertising could save lives instead?

All the NZTA’s attitude does is breed apathy, and apathy skews priorities. Let’s not forget that the end goal here is to save lives. Nothing else matters. Or is there something else more important?

Consider this:

In 2014, New Zealand advertising agency Clemenger BBDO, the NZTA’s advertising agency of choice, won three Gold Lions, two Silvers, and a Bronze award at the Cannes Lions. Clemenger BBDO also won 21 awards at the New York Festival and One Show International Awards, and a Gold in the Australian Gold Awards. Clemenger BBDO also won a number of local ad awards including Gold at the Beacon Awards, plus the Ad of the Year, one Grand Prix, four Golds and three Bronzes at the Axis Awards. That’s 38 awards in total.

In 2014, 293 people died on our roads. Effectively, Clemenger BBDO won just over one advertising award for every seven people that died.

The Clemenger BBDO website claims that “Everybody at Clemenger BBDO has the same job; to make the work we do better. Better means more interesting, more creative, and more effective”. Creativity is a sliding scale and in the world of advertising it often means your peers judge how creative you are. But effectiveness can be measured by everyone involved, including you and me. Was Clemenger BBDO’s 2014 advertising campaign for the NZTA effective? No, it wasn’t, and there hasn't been an effective campaign since then and the numbers prove it.

Lowering our death toll isn’t all about creativity nor does it necessarily require it. Clemenger BBDO is in a very privileged position to work with the NZTA. I know lowering the death toll is a difficult task but Clemenger BBDO have hordes of resources, links to their international partners, and some serious manpower. So what's the problem? It's important to note at this point that Clemenger BBDO's history shows a few tobacco companies on their client list. Big companies like Lucky Strike feature. If Clemenger BBDO could work magic with tobacco why can't they work magic on our roads?

Let’s look at the biggest statistic again: an increase in the death toll by 50% over five years. Would any of Clemenger BBDO’s other clients, such as Fonterra, DB Breweries, and New World, accept a 50% drop in sales over a five-year period? Regardless of the reasons why it happened, BBDO would be out on their arse.

So what’s the solution? 

  1. The NZTA bans all road safety campaigns from being entered into advertising awards.
  2. The NZTA stops using agencies and moves everything in-house. I can hear your groans of dissent from here but it could work.
  3. Make a $13 million movie. Taika Waititi to direct for an affordable fee since it's his social responsibility. Let’s imagine it would pull in $150 million. What could be done with those profits to stop the carnage?
  4. Place 380 white crosses outside the offices of Clemenger BBDO. Perhaps if their creatives were reminded every day that creativity and awards didn’t matter, they might change their approach to saving lives?

Those are my ideas, let’s hear yours.

One of the ads that contributed to Clemenger BBDO's awards haul.