Sunday, December 14, 2014

Don’t Jerk and Drive!

State to pull 'Don't Jerk and Drive' campaign
John Hult and David Montgomery12:54 p.m. CST December 12, 2014

Public Safety official had said double meaning was intentional to draw attention to dangers of overcorrecting

(Photo: courtesy photo / South Dakota Department of Public Safety) 

On second thought, "Don't Jerk and Drive" was too risque for the state of South Dakota.

That public safety campaign, intended to raise awareness about the dangers of jerking the steering wheel on icy roads, played on the double meaning of the word "jerk," which can also be a euphemism for masturbation. Officials admitted to the Argus Leader that the double entendre was intentional.

"The message is that we'd prefer drivers keep their cars out of the ditch and their minds out of the gutter," said Lee Axdahl, director of the office of Highway Safety.

But the language didn't play well with some South Dakotans, and now the state has pulled back.

"I decided to pull the ad," said Trevor Jones, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety — and Axdahl's boss — in a statement. "This is an important safety message and I don't want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road."

Before the cancellation, state Rep. Mike Verchio was planning on calling Axdahl before the Transportation Committee next month to "explain why they would do something like that."

Verchio, a Republican from Hill City who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he heard from several citizens who were upset about the ad after reading the Argus Leader Media story about it.

"I think the intent clearly was ... when you start to go off the road, you should take your foot off the gas and gently go back on," Verchio said. "But it wasn't defended very well that way. When they say 'Yeah, there's some double-meaning there,' I think that was a terrible error in judgment."

The television ad features an animated graphic of a driver spinning into other vehicles after jerking the wheel. The "proper" way to handle the situation is to slowly pull back onto the road, a narrator explains in a posh British accent.

"Over-correcting only results in chaos. And besides — nobody likes a jerker," she says.

The part of the campaign that's garnered the most attention so far is the #DontJerkAndDrive hashtag, pushed out through social media. That wording might not sit well with everyone, but the message isn't meant for everyone, either.

That particular portion of the $100,000 campaign — a figure Axdhal called "a drop in the bucket" — targets young men, as they're the drivers most likely to overcorrect and cause fatal traffic accidents.

Young men are notoriously difficult to reach, said Micah Aberson, one of the strategists with Lawrence & Schiller who devised the campaign.

"When the repercussion of our message not getting through could be a fatality, the stakes are high," said Aberson, who also worked on the DPS's #SoberSelfie and #WhyIBuckle social media campaigns. "We are adamant in our pursuit of campaigns that break through the clutter in a crowded media landscape to a target an audience that's difficult to reach."

The ad campaign, despite the second thoughts, was shaping up to be incredibly successful for South Dakota.

More than 16,000 people saw the campaign on Twitter in its first week. Page views at the DPS's Facebook page have jumped to almost 30,000 since the campaign launched, outperforming previous public safety campaigns 25 to 1.

More telling is the number of people who've interacted with the sponsored tweets, either by re-tweeting a message or commenting on it and passing it along to their followers.

The ad industry average for interaction in sponsored tweets is between 1 percent and 3 percent. The "Jerk" campaign's sponsored tweets have a 6.9 percent interaction rate.

Many of the people on Twitter who've used the hashtag had expressed shock over the double meaning, wondering in the online forum if the state was aware of the sexually explicit double entendre.

Others wondered when late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon would pick up on the joke.

Bryan Ruby, owner of the web consulting business CMS Report, was impressed with the campaign from a marketing standpoint. Online, he called it "brilliant."

"I thought it was a bold move for the state of South Dakota," Ruby said in a telephone interview. "It definitely requires a sense of humor, and that's the risk you're taking. But if the point is to get the message out, this does it."

During the planning stages, Axdahl said the campaign gave him pause. Every hard-hitting campaign does, he said. If a campaign forces people to re-evaluate behavior that kills, he said, it's worth the risk.

"It's those instinctive things that we have to change. Getting those messages out is tough," Axdahl said before the campaign was scrapped. "If we can use a compact slogan to drive people to our highway patrol website, I'm happy about that."

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