Is DoE on right road with shock TV advert which shows speeding car killing entire group of children?
An uncompromising TV ad aimed at cutting carnage on Northern Ireland's roads has polarised public opinion. But its creator defends his 'wake-up call' to speeding motorists
It's been called "car-crash television". And that's precisely what it is – a stomach-churning advertisement that openly uses shock tactics in an attempt to prevent road deaths by presenting a depiction of an horrific accident which wipes out an entire class of picnicking children.
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A commonsense approach may tell viewers that it isn't real, but the images are so chillingly realistic that they can defy any logic.
And the latest in the DoE's notoriously hard-hitting campaign of road safety advertisements is undoubtedly the one that has sparked the fiercest controversy ever over the efficacy and morality of the films.
The new one-minute ad is so savage that it's been banned from TV screens until after the 9pm watershed. But, even so, it's triggered an astonishing backlash among viewers – some of whom have claimed it's unnecessarily graphic, while others have said it's wholly justifiable.
The DoE has defended the uncompromising advert, which Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said was designed to challenge and dispel the false perceptions which many road users have about the consequences of speeding.
The power of social media has meant that more people outside Ireland have seen it on the internet then have watched it on UTV. One recent estimate said that it had received more than two million hits on sites like YouTube.
Bloggers and internet chatroom contributors have also had a field day with the advert. One poster attacked it for the "CGI (computer-generated image)-laden absurdity in it and for trying to improve social conduct through the use of nightmares".
Independent research has shown that the local road safety ads – along with better enforcement by police – are perceived by people here as having made a significant contribution towards reducing the carnage on the roads.
However, Stormont sources said the DoE was concerned of late that the statistics were creeping back up and that speeding was again becoming a major problem – especially among drivers in the 17-24 age-bracket, so the decision was taken to produce a new advert as a "wake-up call".
Even before the road traffic accident campaigns, ads commissioned by the Government in a bid to wean people away from violence set out to shock a public inured to the savagery of what was going on around them.
One anti-terrorist advertisement, which caused outcry, featured killers shooting dead a number of men in pubs and at their homes to the accompaniment of the Harry Chapin song Cat's In Tthe Cradle.
The shockability of the Troubles adverts was followed through by the makers of the road safety commercials, Lyle Bailie International (LBI).
It's won dozens of global awards for the Northern Ireland RTA adverts, which have been adapted and revoiced for campaigns across the world.
David Lyle said the latest advertisement, which was written and developed by him and Julie Anne Bailie, had sparked a "staggering" response on the internet.
He said: "We have been praised and we have been criticised, but our idea has always been to get people's brains engaged on the subject of speeding and what the consequences are. No matter what they think of the ad, they will invariably remember it."
He is a passionate believer in the power of the RTA campaign in tackling the scourge of deaths on the roads – not just in Northern Ireland, but worldwide.
He said: "You only have to think that, while our latest ad talks of one classroom of children being killed, the equivalent figure in the United States, for example, would be 250 in the same period."
He has never made any apologies for producing his ads in a way that he has always known would "shock people out of their complacency" – just as the Troubles commercials did.
"We discovered that, when you are tackling deeply ingrained attitudes, you need to shock people out of the rut they have got in to. And at the same time, you have to humanise the dilemma they are in.
"It's a psychologically-based approach and you don't demonise people. You show them the consequences of what their attitudes are doing.
"We wanted to highlight the fact that speeding is the number one killer. Some motorists told us during our research that they can control their speed, but the ad shows they can't control the consequences."
One road safety expert said: "No matter how many adverts are produced underlining the dangers of speed, there will always be some motorists who don't accept what they are told."
David said he employed shock tactics with caution and not just for the sake of it.
"We have done hundreds of thousands of interviews with people and we have learnt that you don't use shock unless it's proportionate to the problem."
The timing of the RTA ads is crucial, according to Lyle. The new one was scheduled for screening in the summer, because schools were out, exams were finished and students were returning home from universities for the holidays. But first it had to wait for the local and European elections to conclude. "There's a purdah on launching new campaigns during a period of campaigning," Lyle said.
Part of the pre-screening procedures was to show the ad to a number of people for their feedback. And he said the reaction was largely positive.
Writing for a marketing organisation, Lyle and Bailie said regular surveys had shown there was widespread support for the advertisements.
They said: "People can be disturbed by the graphic images used. But if we don't disrupt and disturb, people stay oblivious to the dangers on the roads.
"The road is the most dangerous place the average person goes daily. In research, most people agree that the use of disturbing images is necessary for road safety.
"Even people who have lost members of their family as a result of road tragedy, without exception, say that while the ads are difficult for them to watch, it is vital that they are screened to prevent other families having to go through what they did."