Ad of the Day: Artfully Chilling PSA Shows How Kids Learn Your Bad Driving Habits

Like puppets on strings

The notion that kids grow up to emulate their parents' driving habits fuels "Strings," an unusual spot created by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne for Australia's Transport Accident Commission.

"Parents can't deny that their kids copy them. They see it every day in some way," agency creative director Stephen de Wolf tells AdFreak. "We just want to get into their psyches a little bit to have them question how they act behind the wheel."

To convey the power of parental role models, the minimalist spot shows a boy buckled into a seat behind his father, pretending to drive. He mimics every move his dad makes—such as shouting at other motorists and checking his phone—because the two are connected by puppeteers' wires.

Shot on a dark stage (and not in an actual vehicle), the vibe echoes this much-praised 2010 PSA from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership in England, which also featured mock driving. "We felt keeping the creative idea simple was right," de Wolf says. "That meant keeping it out of a normal car scenario and finding a vehicle that let us show the variety of behaviors we had to show. From there, we got to the strings-puppet visual and the stage setting."

Though the set-up delivers a straightforward message—"What kind of driver are you raising?"—the filming posed some challenges.

"We had six hours to shoot the 60-second spot," de Wolf recalls, "but we also had to shoot a 30-second spot. The 30-second spot isn't a cutdown, it too is a one-take, all in-camera piece. This meant two different sets of synchronized actions from both our boy and our dad, for the two different time lengths. Thankfully, our boy—in his first acting job—picked everything up very, very quickly."

Some of Australia's top puppeteers "helped create the rig and kept the movements of the actors as real as possible," de Wolf adds. "We ended up with at least 20 takes for the 60-second spot alone. Out of those, only one or two had the actions perfectly synchronized and the right feel to the performances."

Backed by an ominous ambient music track, the surreal ride is certainly memorable, even chilling. But one wonders if it will break though without the intense drama and upsetting imagery that often define road-safety campaigns.

"After many years of shocking audiences, the Australian public have come to expect the crash, which limits its impact," says de Wolf. "We are increasingly trying to empower people to do the right thing, not berate them for doing something wrong. This is particularly true for parents, who would tend to opt out if we went the shock route, believing, 'That's not going to be me. I'm a good driver, and I know I'm a good parent.' "


Client: Transport Accident Commission

Amy Cockerell: Marketing Coordinator

Cherie Chandler: Marketing Project Manager

Samantha Buckis: Road Safety Project Coordinator

Samantha Cockfield: Senior Manager Road Safety

Agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

Luke Thompson: Senior Art Director

Jim Robbins: Senior Copywriter

James McGrath: Creative Chairman

Ant Keogh: Executive Creative Director

Stephen de Wolf: Creative Director

Sharon Adams: Print Producer

Sonia Von Bibra: Executive Producer: TV

Karolina Bozajkovska: Senior Agency Producer: TV

Steve Pratt: Retoucher

Lee Simpson: Managing Partner

Naomi Gorringe: Group Account Director

Kate Joiner: Senior Account Manager

Patrick Nally: Account Executive

Matt Pearce: Planner

Tomas Mankovsky: Director (Repped by Blink)

Camilla Dehnert: Producer

Lucinda Thompson: Designer

Geoffrey Simpson: DOP/Cinematographer

Elodie Fouqueau: Editor (Method)

Duncan Horn: Flame Artist (Glassworks)

Theodore Vidgen: Music Composer/Arranger

Stephen Boniface: Photographer (Match Photography)

Postproduction Company: Method Studio/Glassworks

Production Company: Finch/Blink (Co Production)

Paul Le Coutier: Sound Designer/Engineer

Sound House: Flagstaff

Special/Visual Effects" Glassworks

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.