Johnnie Walker’s Drunk-Driving PSA

First of all, I’m a sucker for a well-executed PSA. One thing that makes PSAs hard is you already have a poignant message, and you think that people should care about it, but for whatever reason they won’t hear what you’re saying. Maybe that’s a bleak outlook, but having worked in the world on nonprofits for the past four years, I can attest to the challenge. That’s why I’ve always loved studying PSAs– anti-binge drinking, anti-smoking, anti-animal abuse, etc. It’s really interesting to see how each organization addresses the challenge.

I think Johnnie Walker did an awesome job with this one. For one, it’s stunning. The CGI graphics are beautiful and the visual metaphor is strong, but not overdone. The copywriting, although also compelling by itself, flows seamlessly with the graphics and together they produce an eerie but thrilling effect. The social media integration was spot-on, with the link taking you to like their Facebook page and promoting a hashtag. The campaign certainly has the potential for social sharing. If you look at the timing of the campaign, it was meant to coincide with an F1 race in Brazil, one which the brand sponsored.

Logically, an alcohol brand sponsoring fast cars is not a good idea unless they are also able to run an anti-drunk driving campaign and become a public advocate for change. What I’m saying is, if Johnnie Walker was going to sponsor the race, what choice did they have but to start this campaign? Otherwise, they would have faced a PR disaster for the contradictory pairing. Of course, I’m not questioning the authenticity of their concern. As an alcohol brand, I’m sure they get a lot of flack for contributing to vehicle accidents and it must loom large on their minds. But at the same time, I do wonder which came first– the sponsorship, which led to the campaign out of necessity, or the campaign, which happened to work really well with the sponsorship. It’s an interesting tension. Putting those questions aside though, if it is able to reduce drunk driving by even a quarter of a percent, I say it was worth it.

Okay, now let’s pretend I’m not an advertising student for a second. I’m, for this post’s purpose, just a 21-year-old college student. Would I post this hashtag to my Twitter account? Or like Johnnie Walker on Facebook? No. With all the pressure on each person’s social media presence to be perfectly curated in order to have a future chance at employment, there’s no way I’d take a risk on being seen as someone who “likes” an alcohol brand. Even if everyone who knows me personally knows I’m not a heavy drinker. Even if the like is in pursuit of ending drunk driving. Because this campaign will end eventually, but the like stays unless I go in and remove it. If Johnnie Walker had made it a separate account solely dedicated to preventing drinking and driving, they could engage more profile-conscious people and it would feel more genuine. Bringing in the promotional aspect is where they lost me. I see where they had to make that decision though, because they would have been weighing two goals– sell more drinks versus be seen as a force for change. It seems like sell more drinks outweighed the other, and ultimately the company needs to make money and gain brand recognition.

All in all though, I like it. It’s definitely poignant and memorable. Plus, it was well integrated. This PSA was successful in my opinion because it found a new way to tell an old story. So here’s hoping it can help change the statistics!


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