MK 354 Spring 2010

March 1, 2010

Negating Emotion

Filed under: blog #5 — Tags: , , — morganhowell @ 12:01 pm

When it comes to emotion, few things engender more of it than death at a young age. So when Allstate set out to make an ad to convince teens to drive safer, they had all of that emotion on their side, right? Yes, they did. And they did a good job of communicating it:

“Every year, 6,000 teens go out on a drive,” says the announcer, with a pause for emphasis, “And never come back.” Well jeez, that sure is powerful. And look at all those cars! Look at the naïve teens, driving to certain death, without a care in the world! If I were a parent that sure would make me want my teenage son or daughter to drive safer. But I’m not a parent—I’m one of the teens! And for all I know, the next time I sit behind the wheel could be my last! That should be enough motivation for me to slow down, right? Well, maybe.

This ad came out late in 2007, when there were just fewer than 5,000 teenage driving deaths, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the statistic cited in the ad was apparently incorrect, as I found that there hasn’t been close to 6,000 deaths since 2002). And in 2008, there were just over 4,000 deaths—the number went down, so the ad was at least somewhat effective, right? It’s hard to say. The number of deaths has been decreasing since the late 1970s when the number was nearly 10,000.

Judging from the hard data, the Allstate ad, while emotionally powerful, can in no way be responsible for preventing very many deaths. But why is this? Well, it seems to me like Allstate didn’t know its target market very well. Teenagers have a deep-rooted distrust of authority, be it their parents, teachers, or insurance company. Just like the “Please Don’t Litter” signs in Texas, this ad is preaching to the choir. To pierce through a teenager’s tough and distrusting skin, you have to be more cunning. You have to make a personal connection without sounding like someone’s mom or dad. You have can’t sound preachy or judgmental. You have to utilize the antiauthority, focus on an individual, and not sound like a broken record (maybe something like, “Hey I’m Chris, I used to snowboard and skydive and do tons of crazy shit. Then one day, when I was driving to a friends house to play a video game…”). Kids are a tough crowd, especially when it comes to convincing them to stop doing something fun. If that’s your goal, the worst mistake you could make would be to tell them not to do it—everyone who’s ever been 16 understands that. Unfortunately, we’ve got to get past the Curse of Knowledge first.

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