It’s hard to watch.
It’s hard to look away.
Personal photos of Saskatchewan people, their lives lost to impaired drivers.
Eleven people appear, then disappear.
The last shot is a video.
J.P. Haughey of Saskatoon is wearing black-framed glasses and a ball cap. He’s seated at a piano, preparing to sing.
“This one’s for you. Everyone that I’ve met,” Haughey says. “Everyone that’s been there for me. Thanks, you guys.”
The video freezes.
The image of Haughey disappears. He was 17 years old when a drunk driver killed him.
The screen goes dark.
Impaired driving impacts lives.
Impaired driving impacts families.
Impaired driving impacts everything.
The commercial is the centrepiece of People Shouldn’t Disappear, a multimedia campaign aimed at shaking Saskatchewan out of its complacent attitude toward impaired driving.
“It’s just sort of accepted, and we want to get to a place where it’s unacceptable,” says Kelley Brinkworth, Manager of Auto Fund Communications at Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI).
Year after year, Saskatchewan’s drunk driving rate has been among the highest in Canada: three times the national average.
And it’s been killing far too many of us. In the last decade, more than 600 Saskatchewan people have died because of impaired driving. It’s the number one cause of deaths on our roads.
“That’s not the number one we want,” says SGI’s Manager of Media Relations, Tyler McMurchy.
Years of pointing out statistics, increased enforcement, and harsher penalties didn’t seem to change attitudes.
In May 2016, SGI decided to try a different approach.
“We wanted to try to appeal to people’s emotions,” says Brinkworth.
SGI created the first People Shouldn’t Disappear TV spot using stock photos of actors. Each disappearing person represented someone killed by a drunk driver.
The campaign was successful. SGI hosted a focus group to ask people what they thought of it.
Someone asked, “Why didn’t you use real people?”
Brinkworth says a light bulb switched on.
SGI started contacting families. Brinkworth explained what SGI wanted to achieve and how the campaign might work. These were difficult conversations with people grieving senseless losses.
“It was just amazing to me. Every one of the families, they wanted to do it,” says Brinkworth.
The updated People Shouldn’t Disappear was launched in May of 2017, in a news conference at the provincial legislature.
Family members of the 12 people killed by impaired drivers sat up front holding pictures of their loved ones. Tanner Kaufmann’s widow Alyscia Kaufmann spoke, mere months after her life was forever changed by a stranger’s bad decision.
The Premier and his Cabinet stood at the back of the room.
The commercial was played in public for the first time.
“Everyone is now watching the ad and all you can hear are sobs,” CJME’s Sarah Mills wrote on Twitter.
“You couldn’t escape the emotion,” says McMurchy.
The campaign using real people was the most successful SGI has ever undertaken. On social media, it outperformed SGI’s previous best by seven times.
Two-thirds of people polled said they could remember the campaign, an astounding figure for an advertisement.
“That’s the beauty of the campaign. Everyone can relate to one of those families,” says Brinkworth.
And perhaps the most important measurement of all, the number of impaired driving deaths in 2017 plunged by 32 per cent, to the lowest level seen since SGI started keeping track.
McMurchy quickly points out that impaired driving numbers can fluctuate, and SGI needs to see more data before it’s willing to identify a trend. But the early data is positive, and it could be a sign of change.
SGI knew its next campaign likely couldn’t top the success of People Shouldn’t Disappear. It also knew it had built an audience that was watching.
So it decided to speak to bystanders. It’s trying to move past a culture of complacency toward a culture of responsibility. We’ve all seen situations where someone’s drank too much. How many of us step in to prevent them from getting behind the wheel?
The result is Be a Good Wingman, a campaign encouraging friends and family to watch out for each other by taking away keys, arranging safe rides, or giving someone a safe place to sleep it off.
Brinkworth says SGI will continue to use a variety of means to convince Saskatchewan people to ditch their complacent attitudes about impaired driving.