A Sober Success Story

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. After hearing that refrain for the past 20 years, hardly anyone lets inebriated friends walk out the door without fighting them for their car keys. In fact, nearly 70% of Americans say they have stopped someone from driving drunk.

Last New Year’s Eve, the Ad Council and the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) took that slogan a step further, persuading 517 TV stations to give the issue significant airplay. Stations spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve airing seven spots titled “Innocent Victims.”

The emotional spots, created by BBD Needham Worldwide in New York, focus on people who have lost their lives because of drunk drivers.

“This is a great campaign to do at the end of the year, when everyone is preparing to go to lots of parties,” says Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive officer of the Ad Council. “Using the power of the media to remind people that they need to plan ahead is important.”

And running the commercials didn’t hurt stations’ bottom lines, notes TVB Executive VP Abby Auerbach, “The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a time when TV stations have more inventory available. We thought we could make a huge impact while demonstrating the power of local television.”

A message worth $3.4 million

As a result of the campaign, titled Project Roadblock, nearly anyone who turned on the TV on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day heard the message. Stations in 86% of designated market areas participated, and Nielsen’s Sigma Data systems detected that spots ran 18,207 times, says Conlon.

That amounted to a five-day total of $3.4 million in donated media, most of which fell on New Year’s Eve. A typical Ad Council campaign earns $30 million in donated media annually, with some $10 million of that coming from TV.

What’s more, a post-campaign Nielsen study determined that 38% of people polled were aware of the campaign, with 25% of those saying they had spoken to a friend or family member about it.

The name for the campaign is an inside joke, having nothing to do with driving drunk. In TV, a “roadblock” is a term stations or networks use when they book advertising so viewers in a market can scarcely avoid seeing a message. The Ad Council also organized roadblocks in 2000, the year following the tragic school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and last year, when it launched a campaign against juvenile obesity.

This week, at the TVB Conference in New York, both LIN Television’s WANE in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Hearst-Argyle will receive the Ad Council’s Silver Bell award for work they did around Project Roadblock.

Personal involvement, too

WANE tied the public-service spots into one of its existing community efforts: working with local taxi companies to give people rides during the holiday season. The station also prominently featured a news story about a woman who lost her 14-year-old son to a drunk driver.

“Project Roadblock fit perfectly into something we’d already been doing for a while,” says April McCampbell, community-affairs coordinator for WANE. The station’s public-service efforts have increased greatly since the arrival of Station Manager Alan Riebe more than two years ago, she adds: “It’s really something that’s in his heart to do. I have seen quite a change.”

The Hearst-Argyle television group donated a total of $387,877 in airtime, the most of the 105 groups involved in the project.

“I think this is a wonderful example of how media can adopt an issue and truly save lives,” Conlon says. “There’s no better use of media.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.