2 routes to the heart: via eyes, and via brain

Two road safety ads featuring families in cars, from Australia and New Zealand.

The one from Australia is from January 2021, for the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) Victoria, and made by the agency Clemenger BBDO Melbourne.

The one from New Zealand is from February 2022, for the NZ Transport Agency, to promote the Road to Zero campaign, New Zealand’s road safety strategy. The agency was FCB Wellington.

The 2 ads offer dramatically different routes to appeal to the audiences: one aims for your eye, and then the heart, while the other aims at your brain/mind, and then the heart. The end goal for both is to make you feel, but the routes they take to your heart clearly demarcates the narrative device used.

Consider the Australian ad.

The core idea is ‘The Lucky Ones Get Caught’! It’s a very catchy and intelligent framing that makes us stop because of the assumption that only the unlucky ones get caught by the traffic police. If we think about it, we know that it need not be true at all.

But this thought-provoking line, ‘The Lucky Ones Get Caught’, arrives only at the end. Before it arrives, we witness a gruesome accident after having warmed up to a nice family of three including two children in the back securely seated in child seats, with the seat belts buckled. It’s a fairly gory accident with the car veering out of control, tumbling and then a shot of the father, all bloody and upside-down.

Then, ‘The Lucky Ones Get Caught’! Highly impactful, and the route taken to reach our hearts is through the eyes. It shows what would happen, in graphic detail.

On the other extreme is this moody ad film from New Zealand.

The core idea is to use the dual meaning of the phrase ‘road toll’ to make us pause and think. A ‘road toll’ could be the fee we pay to use a highway, or it could be the way we refer to the casualty of an accident. ‘Death toll’ is the usual phrase used.

Like the Australian ad, we see a happy family of 3 – a father and 2 kids. They are having fun in the outdoors and driving on the highway. The younger child in the back is adequately harnessed in the child seat.

But unlike the Australian ad, there is no scene of any gore or accident. The overall mood of the ad is haunting and creepy, no doubt, but there are no visible scenes of an accident. Instead, there is a chilling dialog by the lady at the toll. It’s only when she utters that line do we realize what the price/fee for the ‘toll’ could actually be. And that the ‘toll’ numbers so casually referred to in the media to summarize an accident refer to individuals who are loved by their families.

This ad’s narrative hits our hearts through the brain. It makes us think, ponder and then realize while our eyes are shown only conventional things about the family and a highway drive. Even if there is a brooding sense of something not seeming right because of the way the music and scenes are staged, we do not see anything graphic the way the Australian ad approached the same message.

This distinction—between appealing to the eyes vs. appealing to the brain has been used in movies to great effect. There are horror movies that have a gratuitous display of blood and gore – this is one way of scaring the audience, through their eyes. There is another method of horror—something that movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Jaws is known for—that scripts the sequences in such a way that your brain does most of the visualizing of the worst possible outcome and fate of the characters even as the screen has only the lead-up and minimal/delayed gore.

There is no one right way – both approaches are useful for different audiences. Some audiences may prefer being told things explicitly and that’s what appeals to them. But many others may think that not being shown what the outcome is and letting them imagine it in their heads is a far more impactful way for them to remember something.

Road safety, as a theme, generally tends to use the first route of showing things explicitly.

Consider this Department of Environment Northern Ireland road safety ad to highlight the dangers of texting and driving. For the first 3 situations, it stops short of showing the consequences, but for the last one, it has a violent go at the repercussions of the driver spending those 2 seconds away from the road! This is an age-restricted video and can only be viewed on YouTube.

Or, consider this new TAC Victoria ad once again made by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne. This one advocates that motorcyclists protect their bodies with appropriate gear.

The repercussions of what is likely to go wrong if motorcyclists are not adequately clothed/geared are shown in excruciatingly graphic detail!

But then, ‘graphic’ need not be through the eyes alone! Take this example of the June 2021 ad film by McCann Prague, for the Czech Insurance Association.

The core idea is to showcase how we’re all lacking time to do the many things every day and how we think we can catch up by speeding our cars!

Observe how the narrative enters our heart – not through the eyes, not through the brain, but through our…!

To some extent, this distinction between appealing to the eyes vs. brain can be figuratively applied to our everyday communication and language too. I had written about this earlier: Like-hate is not a binary of extremes. It is a spectrum.



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