Everybody Loves to Analyze this BMW Drunk Driving Ad

Your Hump-day Recess: BMW ‘s Cerebral Drunk Driving Warning PSA

BMW drunk driving psaIn the ad world, there’s something called “rationale.” It’s a paragraph that an ad agency writes when they submit an ad to a client. The purpose of the rationale is to explain why the ad should work.

So – why do drunk driving ads work? That is, if they do at all.

For generations, ad copywriters have been trying to get into the heads of drivers and shove a wedge of common sense in between the desire to drink and the need to drive.  They’ve tried scaring motorists by telling them what they have to lose. PSAs commonly show scenes of mayhem resulting in lost loves, lost friends, lost jobs, lost money, lost reputation…

And yes, lost limbs. A few years ago Leo Burnett created an ad for BMW with a simple message: drive drunk and you could lose your leg. Because it’s by a big agency, and presumably they wanted to win a lot of awards, the message was presented with a dollop of wit.

And there’s nothing wrong with messages like this – they are true, after all.  Apart from the 10,000 lives that alcohol claims on the road each year, impaired driving crashes cause injuries by the thousands and leave countless lives devastated.

Ad bloggers love PSAs like this, and not because the message is true, but because it’s so beautifully and cleverly presented.

They love to analyze the modes of persuasion and tell you how successful it is at making its point. Note that no blogger every writes that they gave up drinking and driving thanks to the ad – just that they admire the typeface or the clever interplay of text and visual.

The question remains: does it work just because it’s clever? Has anyone every decided not to drink and drive just because he or she saw a really witty ad?

Don’t get us wrong – we’re not against drunk driving PSAs. Far from it. But we think that they’re a small part of the anti-impaired driving landscape. They allow companies and institutions to proclaim their support for sober driving and contribute to the climate in which it becomes increasingly unpopular and unfashionable to drink and drive. Years of cultural change, bolstered by legislation and good law enforcement, have made the real difference.

Still, we look forward to ads like this, which give us new ways to think about the insanity of impaired driving. They don’t take the place of ignition interlock laws or DUI patrols. But they give us something to think about. And write about.