U.K. Drunk-Driving Ad Makes Cruelly Ironic Use of Kool & the Gang’s ‘Celebration’

Marking 50 years of sobering PSAs

The 50th anniversary of England's first drunk-driving PSA inspires a sobering celebration in this Department for Transport campaign.

Kool & the Gang's 1980 hit "Celebration" anchors the new spot spot from AMV BBDO. Usually, the iconic dance track suggests parties and good times. Here, however, it's sung karaoke-style by emergency responders at the scene of a car crash and by ambulance and hospital personnel as they struggle to save victims' lives. (The song's joyous "Come on!" exhortation becomes a doctor's impassioned plea for an injured driver to pull through.)

The final scenes, which I won't spoil, are immensely sad, their impact heightened by sudden silence as the music unexpectedly cuts out.

The spot stands in stark contract to Britain's first drunk-driving ad (posted below). Created in 1964 by animation firm Halas & Batchelor, it shows an office party, complete with balloons and silly hats. The voiceover says, "Four whiskeys, and the risk of an accident can be twice as great … Eight, and the risk can be 25 times as great." (Eight whiskies—that's some bash!)

The ad concludes, "Don't ask a man to drink and drive"—a line that is sexist today, but true to its era, when only a small percentage of English women had a driver's license.

Of course, we've come a long way since then. Thanks in part to aggressive public-service campaigns, drunk driving has been stigmatized, and rightly so. Text at the end of the "Celebration" spot notes that in the past 50 years, annual drunk-driving deaths in the U.K. have fallen from 1,640 to 230, but then cautions: "That's still 230 too many."

Overall, the ad, expertly directed by Mark Zibert via Rogue Films, provides a compelling and slightly surreal viewing experience. Though neither gory nor emotionally over the top, its message—propelled by a cruelly ironic soundtrack—might just get stuck in viewers' heads this holiday season and make them think twice about drinking and driving.