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Marketing Designated Driving
Today, a designated driver is a widely recognized term – and a key component of a fun night out.
But it’s a relatively new concept, especially in the U.S. And it took a concerted marketing effort to help get it into the mainstream.
Designated drivers have been part of Scandanavian culture since the 1920s, and were formalized there in the 1980s. It was then that other countries started working to adopt the concept on a larger scale.
In the U.S., the effort was undertaken by the Harvard Alcohol Project via the school’s Center for Health Communication. The project used several impactful marketing tactics to help promote the idea and encourage people to adopt it.
One of the most effective: Getting a TV show set in a bar to talk about designated drivers.
Harvard encouraged the TV show Cheers, as well as programs like L.A. Law and Dallas, to insert prevention messages and references to designated drivers into their episodes.
The Writer’s Guild of America embraced the strategy, and the initiative was a show of unprecedented collaboration between the dominant TV networks of the time.
All told, 160 prime-time shows incorporated designated drivers into their scripts and plots, resulting in over $100 million in “donated” TV air time.
Everybody Knows its Name
In a true show of its PR chops, Harvard posted a content piece highlighting all the ways the Center for Health Communications’ designated driver campaign was successful.
Chief among them: A narrow focus requiring only a modest shift in behavior. Here’s how the post puts it:
“The CHC took a highly complex problem, broke it down into separate, manageable components, and selected one component where there seemed to be a meaningful opportunity to achieve change at the time.”
The CHC also took smart steps to ensure the partnership of Hollywood screenwriters, including fostering a specific advocate (NBC’s Grant Tinker) and asking for support without demanding it. It also created a dedicated campaign to engage the writers, including billboards, meeting collateral and meetings.