This literally out-of-control 60-second road-safety ad from Northern Ireland is causing an international stir for some intense imagery that begins around the 40-second mark.
As these types of ads go, it's not particularly graphic. There's no blood and guts. No flying body parts. No mutilation. Even so, some observers have criticized the country's Department of the Environment, which produced the spot, for going too far, and some news outlets have posted "trigger warnings" about the strong content. It airs on TV only after 9 p.m., when kids, in theory, aren't watching. And that's a bit ironic, because the controversy centers around the horrifying fate of a group of children.
The PSA, by Belfast agency LyleBailie International, opens ominously, with a slowed-down, dirge-y version of Guns 'n Roses "Sweet Child 'O Mine"—more or less tipping us off that the primary-schoolers seen laughing, playing and preparing for a class outing are in for trouble. Even so, it's hard not to jump when the moment of tragedy arrives.
"Since 2000, speeding has killed a classroom of our children," a voiceover says. "You can never control the consequences if you speed."
Criticism has run the gamut. On UTV's coverage of the ad flap, "Unsure in Belfast" questions the strategy: "I'm surprised if these adverts work. People I know won't watch … Those boy racers who drive fast are never going to be impacted." Over at Philly Barstool Sports, "Smitty" suggests the approach trivializes the issue: "It’s not even something out of a Michael Bay film but rather a Michael Bay spoof." Meanwhile, Twitter user @Curljets sums up the anti-PSA sentiment thusly: "I'm thinking of starting a support group for Irish people called 'DOE Road Safety Advert induced trauma.' "
The DOE says it used such brutal imagery because it believes the fear of killing kids will influence at least some folks to stop speeding. "The aim of this campaign is to challenge and dispel, once and for all, through this emotional and uncomfortable message, the false perceptions that many road users have as to the truly horrifying consequences of speeding," says road safety minister Mark Durkan. "People are losing their lives long before they have the chance to fulfill their potential. Families are being destroyed forever."
While I wasn't exactly horrified by this spot, I would rate it among the most audacious, unsettling and memorable PSAs I've seen. And I'm not the only one taking notice. The YouTube posting is approaching 1.7 million views in a week, and the controversy is driving the anti-speeding message into the public conversation far beyond Ireland.