by Emma King (@EmmainSA) What’s gotten everyone riled up with VW’s Drive Dry campaign with Nomuzi Mabena (aka Moozlie)? In terms of that dreaded PR term, “talkability”, it certainly worked and many would say that any discussion, good or bad, means that it’s making an impact. But was this a step too far?

There are several ways of looking at it but I always find it helpful to go back and ask: “What were we trying to achieve, and did we do that?” Too often, brands get caught up in the drama and excitement of getting column inches and mentally prepping their awards-entry case-study video, rather than attempting to drive real behaviour change and properly measure the long-term impact.

Old-school PR

VW/Diageo/Moozlie (I’m still not sure who the “beneficiary” of this campaign was supposed to be) certainly did get themselves firmly placed in the limelight and, if we’re to measure it in an old-school PR away of tracking AVE and social media hits, it’s a success.

But did it achieve anything more substantial? Is there any evidence of any long-term, substantial behavioural change by people on the roads? What is the lasting reputational benefit for the brands involved?

I would argue that this is where the campaign falls short. Having worked on a number of “Drink Responsibly” campaigns over the years, the one thing that has resonated is the absolute knowledge that once-off PR stunt does little to drive real behavioural change. (The only example I can think of that challenges this idea is the City of Cape Town’s 2018 campaign about Day Zero — which certainly got people radically looking at how they consumed water but also had many unintended negative consequences on the tourism and business sectors).

Solid strategy

Instead, it generally calls for a solid strategy that combines widespread communications campaigns, spread over months or years, that are combined with real on-the-ground interventions.

A case in point in a SAB project from some years ago, aimed at specifically impacting deaths and injuries linked to irresponsible drinking. As well a massive PR, ATL and social media awareness campaign that ran for over a year, it invested in projects and interventions that made a real impact within the communities within which they operated — two examples being projects which educated shebeen and bar owners to operate responsibly; and another which developed foetal alcohol syndrome education initiatives. The result was that, after a year, and with clever planning and measurement before and after, real change could be measured.

Perhaps we are selling the team short, and this stunt forms part of a bigger plan from VW and Diageo. It will be interesting to watch and see what they do next.

Played relationships

The other element of this campaigns which niggles is the way in which the comms team played its relationships with journalists and Moozlie’s fans. There was, apparently, 14 hours of silence between the ‘accident’ and the ‘reveal’, with the PRs involved feeding the media and fans some pre-scripted nonsense.

Reputations — those of brands and those of people — rely so much on a delicate balance of trust and reliability. As much as many may be ‘relieved’ that she’s OK, they’ll also be sitting back and contemplating on how they were taken for a ride. As for the comms team members who managed queries with a series of non-and half-truths, they might well find that their relationships with the media might suffer after this.

I can’t be completely dismissive of this campaign. It takes a lot of guts to come up with and run a concept like this, and kudos to the brands for having the bravery to do this — and bravery is what we need to make a tangible difference on the shocking behaviour we see on our roads. I do, however, hope that this is part of a bigger plan from the agencies and brands involved, rather than a standalone stunt developed simply to get some talkability going in time for awards season…

See also


Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She specialises in consumer and brand marketing and PR, corporate communications, crisis and issues management, and writing.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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