A Public-Service Campaign That Uses Teens to Reach Other Teens

Young People Propose the Creative to Steer Peers From Driving While Distracted

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The telecom and mobile-phone industries, led by AT&T and Verizon, have actively campaigned against driving while distracted, while working to educate the public about the huge risks involved when teenagers try to drive and text at the same time. Even the automotive and insurance industries have joined in. Still, hardly a day goes by without a news report about an accident involving a distracted teenager at the wheel of a vehicle. That's why a small, unique social-media campaign caught my attention.

It was created by a teenager, Nikhil (Nick) Patel, who lost two friends in a distracted-driving accident. Patel, who is of South Asian heritage, saw a promotional advertisement in New Jersey calling for ideas on how to keep teens from driving while distracted. This was part of a contest conceived by another Asian-American, Shau-wai Lam, founder and chairman of DCH Auto Group, a company with 29 car dealerships in the United States, based in South Amboy, N.J.

Lam and his staff had been donating time, resources and funds to a variety of charitable causes, but it never seemed enough, so they decided to try recruiting teens to talk with their peers about the issue of distracted driving. Selling cars was easy compared to selling teens on changing their behavior.

A team led by Susan Scarola, DCH Auto Group Vice Chairman, and Roy Bavaro, DCH Auto Group Director of Corporate Marketing and Brand Development, developed a contest called D3NJ (Don't Drive Distracted New Jersey). The contest offered a grand prize of a new car or a college scholarship equivalent to the cost of a car, and asked teens to develop a message about distracted driving that would resonate with young and experienced drivers.

Scarola and Bavaro enlisted the support of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and media organizations. SADD agreed to contact every high school in the state, while Comcast, Cablevision, CBS Outdoor and Titan Worldwide agreed to donate airtime, ad space and production costs.

DCH Auto Group pulled out all of the stops to raise awareness of the three-phase campaign, sending out press releases, posting banners at their dealerships, working with their media partners and enlisting the help of high school students to spread the word through their personal networks.

Phase one of the campaign involved getting teens to register to join the effort. The second phase focused on the generation and submission of ideas. More than 250 teens entered. Online voting narrowed this group to 10 finalists. The final phase was to have the top 10 vote-getters develop a project plan for their campaign ideas. An outside panel selected Patel the winner.

His campaign urged teens to complete a slogan that began with "Drive2Live2 ________" and join a larger movement to stop teens from driving distracted by filling in the blank space. Teens individualized the slogan and posted it onto their Facebook pages. This propelled the campaign with their friends, parents and relatives.

"I wanted to develop a campaign that was not a generic, one-way message," said Patel, adding that a concrete "call to action" would have special meaning for teens. He had honed his marketing and creative skills by taking courses in cinematography, directing and web design.

"I had an overwhelming amount of support," reported Patel. "People started filling out the slogan with their own passions in life. People I didn't even know started joining the movement." A filmmaker even contacted him during the public viewing and voting phase of the competition, offering to make a pro bono film about the campaign.

Some of the filled-in responses were as follows: Drive2Live2Score (from a soccer player); Drive2Live2Aim (from a person in the military); Drive2Live2Win; Drive2Live2Shop; Drive2Live2Graduate.

Which grand prize did Patel choose for himself? Not the car, but money to help pay for college. "I felt that a college scholarshp was more important and would be more beneficial to me in the long run." He encourages other teens to get involved in things that could make a difference in their lives.

DCH Auto Group and its DCH Teen Safe Driving Foundation will begin another teen-focused contest in California on Oct. 24.

Bill Imada is chairman-CEO of the IW Group, New York.
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