New Zealand Just Had the Creepiest Idea for Reminding Drivers Not to Check Their Phones

Hello ... is it me you're looking for?

Those little red dots over your apps, a subtle vibration, that ringtone from last summer. Our phones are the most attention-craving objects we own, and our brains are hard-wired to leap to attention for every beckon they shoot our way. 

This is most annoying while driving, especially for passengers. So, with help from Clemenger BBDO—the geniuses who gave us the masterfully emo "Mistakes" PSA from 2014—the New Zealand Transport Authority has launched "Hello." 

Featuring a longing-infused cover of the Lionel Ritchie classic, the spot provides a windshield-facing view of a series of drivers and passengers. Between them, the driver's phone makes its little siren's call … and just before he or she reaches reflexively downward to check it, the passenger slyly slides a hand, palm up, over the phone—resulting in an unexpected and slightly creepy hand-hold. 

The gag is devilishly good. Any kind of unexpected physical contact is always a bit weird, but contact that's implicitly also intimate adds extra lulz. Some passengers get more into it than others; the last guy, who closes his eyes and really feels it, is the best example.

It also nicely drives home the tagline: "Put me first. Drive phone free."

"We're never without our phones; it's the first thing we look at when we wake up in the morning, and the last thing we look at before we go to sleep," says creative director Emily Beautrais of Clemenger BBDO. "We live in a time where the majority of young people say they 'can't function' without their phones. Asking them to put it down at any time is a big ask."

And while the ask might make us feel uncomfortable, it's one of those instances where politesse should be overruled by your desire to stay alive.

"Research suggests driver distraction is likely to be a factor in 20-30 percent of crashes. However, the majority of young people still admit to using their phone for unnecessary tasks when they're behind the wheel," says Adrian Stephenson, adviser for NZTA Senior Education. "While lots of overseas campaigns still use shock tactics, we realized we needed to take a different approach with young people if we had any hope of getting their attention." 

Research also shows that passengers do feel uncomfortable when drivers use the phone. "'Hello' makes that discomfort visible without a heavy, judgmental tone," Beautrais adds.

We're feeling it. Our only critique is small: It could be said that the agency subtly amped up the creepiness by playing on feelings of homophobia or physical desirability. It probably wasn't intentional—this is more about the awkwardness of finding a warm open hand where your phone should be—but it's worth noting, because tolerance for low-hanging comedic fruit has worn thin (and rightfully so). And frankly, it's more a good problem than a bad one to be in a cultural position where we have to update our sight gags because people want to be kinder.

"Hello" launched in New Zealand on Sunday online and across social networks. There will also be radio support; we're eager to see (or hear) how they manage that.


Client: New Zealand Transport Authority

Agency: Clemenger BBDO

Executive Creative Director: Brigid Alkema

Creative Director: Emily Beautrais

Creatives: Steve Hansen, Emily Beautrais

Agency Producer: Marty Gray, Jen Gasson

Agency Sound Creative: Mike Gwyther

Group Account Director: Linda Major

Account Director: Bethany Omeri

Account Manager: Matt Barnes

Principal Scientist (NZTA): Paul Graham

Principal Advisor (NZTA): Rachel Prince

Senior Education Advisor (NZTA): Adrian Stephenson

Managing Partner: Matt McNeil (OMD)

Senior Account Manager: Katy Baker (OMD)

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