Helping the RTA find better ways to connect with young people and shift attitudes towards risky driving.


discovery research results in award winning 'pinky' ad


Young people are consistently over-represented in driving fatalities and road accident statistics. One of the reasons for this is young people’s tendency to take more risks when driving. The NSW Roads and Transport Authority's attempts to curb this risk-taking with graphic ad campaigns showing the gory physical and traumatic emotional consequences seemed to have limited effect. The ads were often ignored by the young people who were most likely to engage in risky driving. 

So the RTA needed to deeply understand the culture in which this risky driving occurred. They engage us to conduct ethnographic research to help uncover the behaviours, rituals, language and attitudes around driving and risky driving. Ethnography encourages an anthropological perspective. Ethnographers don’t only look at individual behaviour and motivation, instead they recognise that behaviour exists within a social frame and is affected by social norms and practices. So we were keen in our study to look not only at risky drivers themselves, but explore how their driving behaviour was seen by their peers, by passengers in their cars and their friends.

Armed with video cameras we hung out with young people, went driving with them, talked to them alone and with their friends, got them to keep a driving diary, make their own videos of their driving and then reflect on the behaviour their videos revealed.

This video ethnography approach was highly revealing. While it confirmed the importance of peer pressure as an influencing factor in a young driver's decision to drive riskily, it showed an unexpected disparity between this and the attitudes and feelings of many of the peers as passengers. We discovered that while drivers felt taking risks was fun and adrenalising, friends as passengers often felt vulnerable and were quite critical of risky driving, seeing it as stupid or foolhardy. Furthermore passengers often felt uncomfortable to speak out overtly in front of the driver. It would seem that in the moment there was something of a conspiracy of silence which drivers mistook as tacit approval. And that while there was either perceived or actual peer pressure to do risky things, many passengers did not 'think big' of a driver for taking risks.

This simple yet profound finding highlighted a fundamental misconception being made by the RTA and stakeholders. Up until then the prevailing thinking was that 'everyone was in on it'; that when it came to risky driving the passengers were either 'egging them on' or 'in on the joke'.

By focusing on this broader social context with Transport for NSW, we revealed a new approach which focused less on the consequences of crashing, and more on the judgements and attitudes of peers. Clemenger BBDO produced the ‘Pinky’ campaign that leveraged this insight. The campaign won an advertising effectiveness award in Australia and was admired and copied as an approach around the world.