BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 13:12 UK

The spooky eyes


The first 'eyes' campaign advert

The Magazine's review of advertising

THE ADVERT: The Department of Transport's first national anti-drug driving TV campaign.

THE BRIEF: Get young people thinking that their chances of being caught for driving under the influence of drugs are as high as if they had been drinking.

THE SCHTICK: Four clean-cut young people are in a car. But their eyes are black and distended because they have been taking drugs. A police car passes them, with the officers spotting the massively dilated pupils.

THE BREAKDOWN: Drink driving campaigns have been becoming more refined for years. The belief is that there has been a major attitudinal shift. Young people 30 years ago were far more accepting of the idea of driving after drinking. Now it is taboo.

Still from advert
This girl's eyes give the passengers away to police

At least part of the credit for this change is given to the numerous print, radio and television ad campaigns that have been launched on the subject.

The challenge therefore - for the first national TV advertising campaign - is to make drug-driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

There's a fairly light touch evident in the advert. Four drug users are chatting but are not rolling around like maniacs. The driver looks rather like a Roswell alien in a polo shirt, but he's not slumped at the wheel or swerving from side to side.

The four protagonists have clearly been on a night out and are driving to a friend's house. The conversation is fairly trifling. They talk about the fact the friend they are visiting has a new girlfriend, but is on the ugly side. The chap in the passenger seat is fairly talkative and a little agitated, while the woman sitting in the back is perhaps not 100% at the races.

Then disaster strikes when they spot a police car on the other side of the road. The man in the passenger seat urges his companions to stay cool. But the woman gazes gormlessly out of the window with her odd eyes. There's a look of dismay on the driver's face as he realises the police are pulling them over.

John Prescott is breathalysed
Drink driving adverts have erred towards the horrific consequences

The voiceover says: "Drugs have an involuntary effect on the eyes that you can't control the police can spot this and the penalties are exactly the same as those for drink driving."

And the advert ends with the legend: "Drug driving. Your eyes will give you away."

The most striking aspect of the advert is that it doesn't go with a key theme of drink-driving adverts - the consequences of an accident. The juxtaposition of happy socialising and horrific accidents is common, as in the 1992 In the Summertime advert, where Mungo Jerry's hit plays across a pleasant beer garden before a violent wreck. Or more recently, the advert that shows young men in a bar checking out a young woman before she is shown as a crumpled body and their faces as bruised and injured.

The drug-driving advert follows a recent trend, says Gordon Tempest-Hay, managing director of PR consultancy Blue Rubicon, which specialises in behavioural change campaigns.

"It has quite deliberately taken a non-shocking approach. Historically, people tended to say that if you wanted to get people to change their behaviour you had to hit them hard with a tough message.

"But quite often when you do that people dismiss the message and say 'that will never happen to me'.

"This isn't so much about 'you will be flying through a windscreen and there will be carnage'."

The emphasis in the new drug-driving campaign is on the danger of being caught, and that the legal consequences are the same as drink-driving.

Of course there's a bit of dramatic licence in the advert.

In reality, the police are not going to clock a set of dilated pupils while passing a moving car in the opposite direction. Apart from the eagle eyes involved, such a spot would imply a level of inattention on the part of the officer at the wheel that would itself be hazardous. Instead, they are going to spot any eye freakiness after they have stopped a car for other erratic behaviour.

Also, not all drugs cause wildly dilated - or indeed constricted - pupils. Ecstasy, cocaine and LSD certainly might cause unusual eyes, but the eyes of a marijuana user might appear normal.

And crucially, the ad's not anti-drugs per se. It's just anti-drug driving.

It's a logical attitude to strike, says Mr Tempest-Hay.

"Whatever we think about drugs some people do do this and we do need to address it."

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Finlo Rohrer.

Below is a selection of your comments.

The first time I saw this advert I thought it was about the need for drivers to be more vigilant when driving, hence the big eyes - emphasizing the need to look around. Totally did not register it was about drugs.
Jen, Scotland

The advert completely misses the point of WHY you should not drive under the influence of drugs, and is thus going to be dismissed by the target audience. Drug-taking is illegal anyway, so people who choose to use are obviously not bothered by breaking the law, and are prepared to take their chances of getting caught. So if you want to make a point about drug-driving, rather than general drug use, do it properly.
Megan, Cheshire UK

I think it does a good job. Many young people seeing recreational drug taking as part of the everyday/weekend activities - most aren't hard heroin users, for example. This ad reflects that, and conveys the message coherently and informatively rather than using a preachy or scaremongering tone - which I think will work.
Philippa, London

I suffer from an eye problem which sometimes requires me to use medically prescribed drops which dilate my pupils. One result of this is that my eyes become extremely photosensitive, and so if I were driving afterwards (albeit not recommended), I would probably be wearing sunglasses and no passing police officer could see my pupils.
Rebecca Haywood, Hastings, UK

Exactly what drugs make your eyes look like their eyes do in the advert? Peoples eyes do not actually get bigger when on a drug, pupils will dilate and you might get red-eye. But that's one exaggeration nobody can believe. They all look like alien freaks.
Jake, Bromley

Young adults should be treated as such, and should be presented with the facts and figures behind drug-driving, rather than a "if you do this, we will catch you" message. I believe it only serves to further breed contempt amongst young adults for authority, especially the police.
Alex Mac, Oxford

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