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New Zealand Knows How to Terrify Its Citizens Into Driving Better

They have a knack for creating horrifying PSAs.

Earlier this month, a New Zealand anti-speeding commercial went viral, and for good reason – it is probably the most creative and effective ad for slowing the fuck down that has ever been made. But it is only the most recent standout commercial produced by the New Zealand Transport Agency and their ad agency, Clemenger/BBDO. Together, they have built a reputation for producing the best road safety PSAs in the world.


“Mistake” (2014)

This is the commercial that the internet has been collectively fanning out on for the last two weeks. I have never seen an ad that delivers a safe driving message with more resonance and power. If this thing doesn’t make you ease up on the old gas pedal, nothing will. The freeze frame motif is nothing new in advertising creativity, but using it in an anti-speeding PSA is brilliant. A spokesperson for the agency said this about the spot:

"This campaign aims to reframe the way people look at their speed when they're driving. We usually get to learn from our mistakes, but not when driving – the road is an exception. Even the smallest of mistakes on the road can cost us our life, or someone else's."

(Creative note: a similar spot was done in Thailand in 2007, but it is a far inferior and stupidly goofy ad.)

But the NZ Transport Agency doesn’t solely rely on shock tactics. Over the last few years their ads have perfectly matched the creativity to their targeted audiences. That’s a sign of a great client/ad agency relationship, which just never happens with government accounts. Never.

“Flying Objects” (2012)

This 2012 anti-speeding ad is less personal than “Mistake,” but still eye opening. The super slow-motion spot gives lead-footed drivers a physics lesson: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, including the important stuff inside of us like the heart and brain. From the agency’s press note about the commercial:


Vehicles are much safer than they used to be. Our roads are also continually upgraded and changed to make them safer for drivers. But while improvements are constant in these areas, there’s one weak link that will never be upgraded – the human body. The campaign…encourages the audience to consider aspects of a crash that they may not have considered before: that even with the best protection, you are still vulnerable.

“Blazed” (2013)

The agency aired this long form ad last year on Māori Television. It is a perfect little two-minute play put on by three adorable Māori children who are having a hilarious discussion about whose dad is the funniest stoned driver. Their imitations are priceless. The ad gets the “don’t drive stoned” message across without banging you over the fucking head. The commercial should be reshot with American kids and aired in Colorado and Washington.

The children appear so natural in the scene because they are working with a professional director, Taika Waititi, whose Oscar-nominated short film, “Two Cars, One Night,” is also about New Zealand kids talking in cars. It’s only 11 minutes long; give it a watch.

“Shopkeepers” (2013)

“Shopkeepers” was released last August at the same time as “Blazed”. It’s a documentary-style commercial, alternating between interviews with actual small business owners and surveillance camera footage of “stoned” customers. While it is scripted, the writing makes it a winner – “What’s a grown man want 12 frosty pigs for?” What, indeed. Again, you are entertained while getting message.


The agency’s research for this stoned driving campaign found that around one-quarter of all New Zealand drivers and motorcyclists killed in accidents had cannabis in their system, and that cannabis was the second most common drug found in blood samples of deceased drivers (alcohol was number one).

“Legend” (2011)

This teen drinking and driving spot may be the best alcohol PSA ever produced. It’s far and away better than all of the preachy, out of touch, inaccurate, ineffective teen drinking and drug commercials the US government has wasted billions of dollars on over the years – commercials that were created by the best brains at the best American ad agencies, mind you.

It’s a simple, humourous ad set at a Māori teen party, executed perfectly. It talks to kids, not at them – “stop a mate from driving drunk” is the perfect strategy for teens. The commercial is helped greatly by the winning performance of the “hero.” “You know I can’t grab your ghost chips.” Wonderful.