The spots are as hardhitting as one of George Foreman's right hooks, and yet there's a startling subtlety to them. That's because the acting is wholly believable, and because the various :60s, :90s and :120s-the campaign now consists of almost 40 spots-allow viewers enough time to identify with the characters. "Part of the appeal and the effectiveness is that people say, 'That could be me,' " explains Grey's creative director, Rob Dow, a lanky 51-year-old who has been responsible for the TAC work since joining the agency four years ago, working with the team of writer Greg Harper and producer Romanca Jasinski.
Grey got the account in 1989, along with a brief that would be any creative's dream. "We were told to upset, outrage and appal people," says Dow. And that they did-without, it seems, alienating or putting off too many viewers. On the contrary. The campaign has been a rousing success, both in reducing the annual number of fatalities on Victoria's roads from roughly 800 in '89 to 413 last year, and in collecting creative awards all over the world.
It's not often that a creative team is offered a chance to save lives. (Beats selling peanut butter.) But it's also a huge responsibility, not to mention a potential appetite suppressant. "There's some dreadful material that we've seen from the police," says Dow, "like a videotape file that they refer to as Mr. Krispie; people that have been trapped in their wreck and badly burned. That's horrible to look at."
Dow is no ghoul, however, and the ads aren't veritable torrents of twisted metal and blood and guts. Most of the commercials have mere seconds of accident footage. Even then, the editing is detached, neutral-you wouldn't mistake it for a scene from David Cronenberg's Crash. "You can't become too macabre," Dow realizes.
His "Christmas" commercial doesn't have any accident footage at all: it's a gritty :60 that tells the story of what happens in and around an emergency room after a traffic accident, with surviving victims and family members caught in a mad turmoil of anguish, despair, guilt and anger.
That spot, like other TAC commercials, is among the most praised advertising on the globe. This year alone, the campaign was good for a Gold Clio; two Golds, one Silver and a Best of Show at the One Show; and a Bronze Lion in Cannes. "It's probably the most awarded campaign in Australian advertising history," believes Dow. In fact, it's become a bit of an albatross for the Melbourne shop. "We are, unfortunately, still known as the TAC agency," he sighs. "We do very good work for other clients and brands [Ocean Spray, among others-Ed.], but it's overshadowed by this very powerful TAC work."
Ironically, part of the reason why his peers and the public are eating it up appears to be that the ads don't look like advertising-more like a combination of drama and journalism. "We wanted to get away from the slickness that pervades most ads," explains Dow. "Otherwise, people'd see it as another ad, and they'd tune out."
To Di For
In some ways, the campaign threatens to become a victim of its own success. Local TV stations often air the spots for free at times when they haven't been slotted. "That works against us because the wearout factor can become a lot stronger," Dow explains. "People start turning it off because they've seen it too many times." Which leads to the odd spectacle of an advertiser demanding that the stations not allot it free airtime.
Given Dow's riveting don't-drink-and-drive spots, would he be comfortable working on a beer or liquor campaign in the future? (He once did creative for Foster's, though not for the celebrated "Australian for Beer" spots.) "Sure, alcohol is just another product," he shrugs. "There are cases where you may not necessarily believe in a product, but you promote it as best as you can. And I think with alcohol, that's fine. Everyone knows it should be used in moderation."
As Princess Diana's driver should probably have realized. Days before the fatal crash in Paris, a new TAC billboard campaign premiered in Australia, with the headline, "If you don't trust the driver, don't get in." Shortly after the accident, someone crossed out "driver" on one of the billboards and spray-painted "chauffeur" over it.
"The Princess Di thing brought it home," Dow says. "It doesn't matter who you