Here’s a great example of your tax dollars at work. New York City is receiving an $805,000 federal grant to get young men to drive more safely.
According to The New York Post article, the city’s Department of Transportation intends to “use Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to reach young men, who are most likely to crash into pedestrians.”
I figure the first pedestrian lawsuit against the DOT should occur in a matter of days. “The Department of Transportation is to blame for injuries and mental suffering,” the suit will say, “because the driver was distracted while reading a DOT tweet about safer driving.”
The new mayor, Bill DeBlasio, has made traffic safety one of his key issues, and rightly so, as there was about one death-by-vehicle every three days last year in the city. I do not know if that includes drive-by shootings.
Here’s my question: What sort of message could this campaign possibly deliver? It’s one thing to say “Don’t drink and drive” and “Don’t text and drive” and “Don’t eat a hot, drippy taco and drive.” Those are all actions that a person can choose to discontinue.
But you really can’t command people to “not have an accident.” An accident, by definition, is unintended. It’s not like it’s Death Race 2000 out there and all these young men are taking aim. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of drivers in New York–even the young, male ones–would prefer not to hit that lady with the stroller.
I spent many years in big New York ad agencies, and I can just see how the meeting with the DOT would go. First, the client would be invited to partake of the large selection of pastries. Then someone would do a PowerPoint presentation about all the research that would have to be done before they could start to create advertising. “We need to discover consumer attitudes toward non-fatal driving,” they might say. “And explore the archetypes associated with mom and dad and the gore-free family car.”
The creative folks would then present storyboards with the proposed commercials, even though the research guys just said they needed to do research first. (Advertising 101: Do the creative first, then make the research support it.) “Our concepts have a strong branding element,” the creatives would say. “We want to position every vehicle-based, non-impact outing as a cause for celebration.”
Finally, the “suits” would present the budget, which would come in at $804, 998.
And the messaging is likely to have the opposite of the desired effect. You remember when your parents had 28 people over for Thanksgiving, and your mother gave you the gravy boat to take to the table? It would have been no problem, except that, as you turned toward the dining room, she had to go and say, “Be careful with that.” Of course you were going to be careful with it. But precisely because mom said “be careful,” you tripped on the carpet and gave 89-year-old Aunt Mildred a gravy bath, and to this day, her grandson Max gets dirty looks from the rest of the family because of how hard he laughed, and Max hates you for the incident which is a real shame since Max ended up selling his Internet start-up to Facebook for a few billion dollars.
But I digress.
So, on the gravy boat principle, if the Department of Transportation spends $805,000 to tell young men to drive carefully, it’s going to be a demolition derby on the streets of New York. Especially since, thanks to the city’s new bike share program, thousands of clueless tourists are cycling willy-nilly through the streets.
There’s one more thing I have to say about this. Why eight hundred and five thousand? What’s the five thousand for? The one extra tweet that’s going to make all the difference?
See you soon.