A Responsible Dad Makes Catastrophic Choice in AT&T's Shocking New Safety Film

Latest in 'It Can Wait' Ad Focuses on Decisions We Make When We're Alone

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Last year, AT&T and BBDO New York shocked viewers with the "Close to Home" ad, which depicted how one caring mother's simple moment of distraction devastated many. A gripping new film, "The Unseen," continues to promote mobile users' safe behavior through the eyes of a typically responsible father who mindlessly lets his guard down while alone on the road, leading to harrowing consequences.

The three-minute plus video captures a day-in-the-life of a loving family. Dad drives his three daughters to the local pool, while Mom is at home, where she discovers the family dog Muffin has once again disappeared. In the car, the kids make their noisy merriment, as kids do, and the father tries to stay focused while enjoying their company. His wife, concerned about Muffin, keeps ringing and texting, but good papa that he is, he consciously lets those go since the little ones are in the car.

Having dropped off the kids, the father remains vigilant, even ignoring another call because he sees a neighbor on the street coming out to get his mail, and then, there's a surprise -- a stowaway in the back seat, a young boy. For a moment, the dad is a bit confused, and so are we -- where did he come from? But things proceed as normal and the man and boy have a pleasant chat about everyday things like soccer and school. Dad continues to ignore his phone because of his little passenger, but then it all then takes a supernatural turn -- one that explains what the boy was doing there in the first place, and likely, will jolt viewers once again.

AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign has been running for six years and has led to impressive results around awareness about distracted driving. According to AT&T Assistant VP-Advertising Sandra Howard, company data shows that a third of the people exposed to the campaign have altered their behavior. More than 10,000,000 people have taken the pledge on the "It Can Wait" site to avoid looking at their phones while on the road and the brand has seen about 5 million downloads of its DriveMode app, a tool available for multiple carries that silences alerts and auto-replies to others to let them know you're on the road.

The "Close to Home" Film:

According to Ms. Howard, the new ad takes the next step to encourage more action along with that awareness, and get the remaining two-thirds of viewers to change their ways too.

Through AT&T and BBDO's research, a powerful piece of insight led to the latest work. "We found that when someone is in the vehicle with others, they feel a responsibility for those who are there with them and demonstrate very good behavior because of the people in their care," said Ms. Howard. "But those same people will actually have no issue driving distracted when they are alone. When you're alone, you almost feel like you're in a bubble and you don't think you're putting anyone in danger."

That, of course, is not the case, as "The Unseen" aims to show.

According to BBDO Exec Creative Director Matt MacDonald, focus groups were key to uncovering that insight. "We had been testing other bits of work, getting reactions from other people, but in the course of talking to consumers, we discovered a lot of people were admitting to doing one thing when they were alone, versus when others were in the car with them," he said. "We talked about how this behavior has become insidious -- we all understand that it's a dangerous and terrible thing to do, but humans are really good at tricking themselves that they can do it. The fact that they self-justify is what we wanted to tackle head-on."

To create the new film, the agency assembled some of the team from the previous film, including Anonymous Content director Frederic Planchon, known for his powerful emotional storytelling.

Like the previous ad, the new film goes out of the way to humanize, not demonize, the story's protganist in an effort to create a scenario all viewers could relate to. But unlike "Close to Home," which went all out with the exposition and depicted a huge crash, in detail and in slow motion, "The Unseen" takes a more subtle, metaphysical turn, (SPOILER ALERT) built around the relationship between the man and the ghost-boy who warns him of his future mistake -- one we witness until just before the moment of impact.

Such storytelling was tricky territory, according BBDO's Mr. MacDonald. "There were a few different ways we could play it," he said. "Ultimately we wanted to make it not seem like the 'Sixth Sense.' Ostensibly, the kid could have jumped in the car at the pool, one of those crazy things that can happen. We had another version that played it a little more supernatural, but that took away from the ending."

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