Recently the NZ Transport Authority and the Police introduced a new campaign for reducing driver speeding. The “Mantrol” concept attempts to link the safe driving with “manliness” and in this way induce those who might speed out of machismo to take a second look at what constitutes that ever mercurial definition of “real man”.

Looking at a few of the comments on the Stuff version of this story there is a lot of negativity regarding this campaign. I think many of the comments miss the point. I agree many of the comments (in aggregate) that auto fatalities are a multi-factorial problem, not only speed but driver competency, road condition, alcohol, culture, road laws etc are all contributing to the current situation. To expect one ad campaign to address all of these disparate causes is obviously unrealistic. It is even unrealistic to expect one campaign to address and counter every reason that a person might speed. We have had the graphic advertisements showing the consequences of out of control speeding, these will work on one sub-set of the population. Now we have an approach that may have an effect on a different sub-set.

I wrote in January about a study comparing types of cigarette warnings, the study found that warnings emphasising mortality were less effective on individuals who based their self esteem, at least in part, on their smoking behaviour. As a result those individuals would rate themselves as more inclined to continue smoking. On the other hand, warnings that directly attack the source of self esteem are more effective. Individuals who consider smoking to make them more attractive (the “coolness” factor) will be more influenced by warnings that state the opposite.

One of the conclusions of the study was that warnings may need to be tailored to the population you are trying to influence.The depending factor is how much the behaviour is related to a person’s self esteem and self image.

In attempting to tie safe driving to manliness there is a move towards reaching people at a place in their psyche that relates to their self esteem and how that manifests in their behaviour. In other words if speeding is an expression of one of a person’s core beliefs about themselves ie that they are macho man, then pointing out that in the eyes of others their behaviour is inconsistent with that label may lead to a behavioural change.

Now I do think that the current set of ads don’t quite hit that mark but I do think that they are a step in the right direction. The implicit humour of the ads are also a mark in their favour but they are perhaps a little too close in flavour to a number of other ads currently in the market (multitude of beer ads, even McDonalds ads) trying to tie their product to what real manly men do.

In any event, it is too early to tell whether or if the current crop of anti-speeding ads will have an effect on behaviour. I do think that the use of multiple approaches is valuable in itself as a one-size-fits-all attempt is certainly doomed to failure.

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