LIVE ISSUE/ANTI-DRINK-DRIVE ADVERTISING: DMB&B leaves formidable legacy on drink-drive - John Owen reports on why a prestigious Government brief has changed hands

There can be few accounts with a higher profile among the general public than the Government’s anti-drink-drive brief. The ads may only run for a week or two each year, but there aren’t many other campaigns whose launch regularly makes News at Ten.

There can be few accounts with a higher profile among the general

public than the Government’s anti-drink-drive brief. The ads may only

run for a week or two each year, but there aren’t many other campaigns

whose launch regularly makes News at Ten.

Which is why, for DMB&B, last week’s loss of the account to its rival

Department of Transport roster shop, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was such

a blow (Campaign, 2 October). While it may not have added much to the

agency’s bottom line, the account’s prestige was huge. So what went


Barry Cook, DMB&B’s managing director, believes the agency has nothing

to reproach itself for. ’Sometimes,’ he says, ’when you lose a piece of

business, you look back on the work you did and you understand why. But

when I look back at the work we did (on the drink-drive business), I

think we can all be incredibly proud.’

DMB&B picked up the business in 1991. It inherited from Miller & Leeves

WAHT a record of spectacular success. Deaths were down 17 per cent and

serious injuries 20 per cent since 1987. And research showed that the

advertising was the biggest factor in the reduction. It was a hard act

to follow. DMB&B’s first attempt was aimed at older, middle-class

drivers, introducing them to the shame of being dragged down to the

police station and treated as a common criminal after getting caught

drink driving.

But it was with the following year’s campaign that DMB&B struck


Switching its target to young drivers, the agency produced ’eyes’, one

of the starkest commercials ever seen on British TV. It opened on the

staring eyes of a teenager - played by a young Denise van Outen - before

panning out to reveal her lying in the road and bleeding from a head

wound as paramedics try in vain to restart her heart.

In 1993, the agency spearheaded a radical new strategy, producing a

summer drink-drive campaign with the memorable ’summertime’


To Mungo Jerry’s singalong classic, the ad showed young people, some

with children, drinking merrily outside a pub at lunchtime. As a couple

drive off with their baby, the music suddenly stops and the film cuts in

silence to the scene of their wrecked car. ’We hope it will grab people

cheerfully by the arm before galloping them over a cliff,’ Roger

Holdsworth, the DMB&B creative director, said at the time.

The Christmas campaign that year drove the family message home further,

depicting the grief of a young woman, whose husband’s lateness for

Christmas dinner is explained by a phone call as the flaming Christmas

pudding on the table is transformed into the burning wreck of a


That year, the number of people killed or injured in drink-related road

accidents fell to below 4,000 for the first time. The roads and traffic

minister, Robert Key, praised the ’summertime’ campaign in particular,

calling it ’one of the most successful we have ever mounted’. In 1994,

’summertime’ ran again, followed at Christmas by ’Mark’, a film which

used a mixture of live action and video prints to give a ghostly effect

to the image of a young man as the voiceover tells of how Mark is a

’great bloke’ - who turns two children into orphans.

The following year, a new summer campaign aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds

was set in a hospital and featured a patient’s eye view of a young man

apologising to his friend for having crippled him. ’Still mates aren’t

we?’ he asks.

But the jewel in the DMB&B crown came at Christmas, with ’Dave’. As a

middle-aged woman prepares what looks like baby food, we hear a

voiceover of a pub conversation as some blokes say to their mate: ’Go on

Dave, just one more.’ The woman walks over to a helpless young man and

attempts to spoon the mush into his mouth. The camera closes in on the

dribble on his chin as she urges him: ’Go on Dave, just one more.’

The ad won gongs galore, including a British Television Advertising

silver, but more importantly, it achieved a record spontaneous awareness

figure of 93 per cent.

Nick Hastings, the DMB&B creative director, puts the ad’s success down

to its realism: ’I always feel that when the subject is so real and

emotive, any attempt at tomfoolery is misguided. ’Dave’ worked because

it was so believable.’

’Dave’ was succeeded at Christmas 1996 by a young woman with a scarred

face, staring in the mirror and trying to forgive her boyfriend for what

he’d done to her.

But last year the shock tactics were abandoned under the new transport

minister, Baroness Hayman. New ads showed ’responsible’ people telling

the interviewer how they set careful limits to their drinking if they

had the car. It went on to explain that they were actually responsible

for killing and maiming thousands of people. Spontaneous awareness hit

90 per cent but the proportion of positive breath tests over Christmas

rose from 5 per cent in 1996 to 9 per cent. This statistic was quoted

last week by the DoT as the reason for reviewing the business.

During its time on the business, DMB&B helped reduce the number of

drink-related deaths and injuries on the road from 4,850 in 1990 to

3,470 in 1997. Deaths fell from 760 to an all-time low of 540.

The Government is working on a transport white paper which may introduce

a lower breath test threshold. But this option is looking less likely

now, according to Whitehall sources. So the task will instead fall to



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