GET THE HINT?
Ad for ‘funeral home’ actually a warning to distracted drivers
A billboard touting a funeral home has a morbid message for drivers on the Gardiner Expressway: “Text and drive.”
The advertisement overlooking a highway used by thousands of vehicles each day has raised eyebrows. And that was the point. What appears to be a tasteless business ploy is in fact a public service announcement against dis- tracted driving by the Toronto ad agency john st. A website for the fictitious Wathan Funeral Home-includes grim statistics on texting at the wheel, as well as words for people who plan to complain about the sign: “You probably came to this website to tell us what horrible people we are running an ad like that,” it says. “And you’d be right.
“It is a horrible thing for a funeral home to do, but we’re not a funeral home. We’re just trying to get Canadians to stop texting and driving, which is projected to kill more people in Ontario this year than drinking and driving.”
The message doesn’t seem to have been lost on people. “Simple, effective, clever,” wrote one Twitter user.
“We wanted to contribute to spreading the word about a problem that people think they’re invincible to. Nobody admits to it, but I think everybody does it.” MYLÈNE SAVOIE MANAGING DIRECTOR, MONTREAL OFFICE, JOHN ST. ADVERTISING
“Morbid, but definitely clever,” tweeted another.
The stark, black-and-white sign is more likely to grab people’s attention than straightforward warnings about texting and driving, said Angus Tucker, a partner and executive creative director at the agency.
“What it’s trying to say — and I think it’s saying very clearly — is texting and driving kills,” he said. “The challenge is: How do you say it in a way that actually makes people think about the consequences?”
The billboards — one by the Gardiner near the Exhibition grounds, and another at Albion Rd. at Steeles Ave. — were donated by Cieslok Media.
Employees at john st.’s Montreal office came up with the idea. “We wanted to contribute to spreading the word about a problem that people think they’re invincible to,” said managing director Mylène Savoie. “Nobody admits to it, but I think everybody does it.”
Last year, Ontario increased the fine for distracted driving, from a maximum of $500 to a base fee of $300 rising to $1,000, plus three demerit points upon conviction.
About 1,900 people were injured in collisions involving distracted drivers in 2015, according to preliminary Toronto police data.
“It’s already outpaced impaired driving,” said Toronto police Const. Clinton Stibbe. “We may not be seeing as many deaths, but we are certainly seeing way more injury.”
Fatal crash statistics are unavailable because they may jeopardize ongoing investigations, he said.
The police have also resorted to inyour-face morbid images to spread awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. On Wednesday, the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto police held a driving-safety campaign launch at MacKinnon & Bowes, a funeral services company in East York. Decorations at the event included flowers and a headstone with a macabre epitaph: “Gone too soon, was it worth the risk?”
Such tactics may be needed to bring attention to the problem of texting while driving, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business.
“Despite all the sensible warnings about texting at the wheel being a rather silly thing to do . . . just look around and you see people doing this,” he said.
But the billboard isn’t just a good public service announcement. “I think it would be a great line for a funeral home as well,” he said with a laugh.