Volunteer ads offer sobering reminders on drinking and driving

If the roads and highways in the United States are safer this holiday season, some of the credit should be given to a public-service advertising campaign that cautions against drinking and driving. Television viewers watch as two wine goblets are lifted, as if to make a toast. When the glasses are clinked together, they smash into pieces and an off-screen announcer somberly warns: ``Drinking and driving can kill a friendship.''

This is part of a campaign sponsored by the Advertising Council to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving. It's aimed at drivers 18 to 26 years old. Starting just before Thanksgiving and running through the first of the new year, the campaign is stepped up in frequency to coincide with the holiday season, when the temptation to mix drinking and driving is greatest. More than half of the 5,000 TV warning spots will appear during this period in the top 75 markets in the country.

The campaign, which first aired in 1983, was created by Leber, Katz Partners, a large New York ad shop. The client is the United States of Transportation's National Highway Safety Administration. The department receives millions of dollars' worth of advertising time and space and hundreds of hours of research work.

Rick Smith, the department's director of media development, says the campaign is proving effective: ``We've seen a real drop in the number of alcohol-related deaths since the campaign began.''

``We know the campaign is effective and reaching the audience we targeted,'' Mr. Smith says. ``When I'm at gatherings, some young person usually comes up to me and volunteers that he saw the commercial with the crashing glasses.'' Alcohol, he says, is involved in more than half of all highway fatalities.

Leber, Katz vice-chairman Murray A. Valenstein says the agency did extensive research using focus groups that concentrated on young drivers.

``With a campaign like this,'' Mr. Valenstein says, ``there's a danger of being too preachy or too frightening and turning the young audience off. We think we reached an optimum middle ground that catches the attention of this group and makes sense to them.''

It's a popular campaign with the TV, radio stations, magazines, and newspapers that run the ads as a public service. ``In terms of the number of times the ads appear on air or in print during a year, it ranks on up there with all-time favorites, like our Smokey the Bear for forest fire prevention,'' says Eleanor Hangley of the Ad Council.

``It's a campaign that touches a responsive chord everywhere,'' Ms. Hangley continues, ``because there isn't a community that hasn't experienced a tragedy involving a young person drinking and driving.''

She says $45 million worth of ad time and space was donated for this campaign last year. The Transportation Department pays only for production and distribution, which are arranged and monitored by the Ad Council.

Although it is too early for hard figures, the council expects its campaign against drunken driving to top the $60 million mark in free time and space given this year. Most of it will appear during the month of December.

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