In the last 50 years, drinking and driving commercials have undergone a drastic change. Initially advertisements were gory images unlike modern day drink-driving ads. The UK saw its first drink driving ad on 7th November 1964 which now seems to be a polite approach compared to the new age shock tactic approach. The ad politely reminded people of the likelihood of an accident after four single whiskies.
For half a century young men have been at the receiving end of such advertisements allowing people to classify these ads as ‘sexist’.
Professor of social marketing at Stirling University and the Open University, Gerard Hastings says that where initially drinking and driving was considered a social norm for the pub-going regulars, effective marketing has helped in changing public attitudes and habits.
Although it was a criminal offence to drink and drive it 1964, there were no legal limit set at that time and no way to ascertain if someone was fit for driving or not. A study in US ‘the Grand Rapids Effects Revisted: Accidents, Alcohol and Risk’, found that the chances of an accident increases in most cases where the alcohol content is 80mg in 100 ml of blood. As a result the UK introduced drink-drive limits and introduced the legal maximum blood alcohol limit through the 1967 Road Safety Act along with introducing the breathalyser test. The introduction saw a reduction in the road fatalities caused due to drink driving from over 22 per cent to 15 per cent.
Despite the introduction of the 1967 Act between 1969-1975, alcohol related crashes increased to more than 35 per cent. Prosecuting drink driving as a criminal offence in magistrates court and the introduction of breathalyser seemed to be having on deterrent effect for those who viewed it as merely a ‘naughty behaviour’ and brought about the era of modern anti drink ads. The first drinking and driving advertisement appeared in 1976 depicting a woman being stretched on an ambulance as a result of a drink-drive accident.
Research had indicated at that time that people did not fully understand the consequences of drink-driving and 1979 saw the total number of deaths related to drinking and driving reach 1640.
These ads underwent further changes. Josh Bullmore, planning director at Leo Burnett Group and co-author of the 2012 report ‘Department for Transport’, says the ads initially focussed on the individual and impacts faced by him in terms of his job, insurance and losing of one’s licence. The end of decade brought about a change. Instead of appealing to the driver’s self interest, the ads started highlighting society’s disapproval. Instead of being rational the ads became emotional in nature. However the early 1990s saw another significant turn of events with the culture of ‘binge drinking’ according to Bullmore who pointed out that a culture of intoxication came about at that time. Although people agreed that drinking and driving was socially unacceptable they associated it with people who had more than eight pints whereas their own behaviour of driving after a few pints seemed fine. Focusing on immediate consequences ads were then made condemning the ‘second pint’.
2012 saw 230 deaths due to drink driving as opposed to the high number of 1640 deaths in 1979. Road safety campaigns and the increasing number of strict laws have helped in the reduction in the number of deaths. Even lawyers who specialise in drink driving related offending would accept this correlation, despite seeing the inevitable seasonal hike in such offences during the Christmas period. Indeed over the past 50 years society has undergone a change but still there remain a few who don’t concern themselves with advertisements about the dangers of drinking and driving.