Tombras Featured in KNS for NHTSA Campaign

Tombras Featured in KNS for NHTSA Campaign
September 6th, 2011 News

The Tombras Group was featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel for its creation of a nationwide campaign for the U.S. Department of Transportation focusing on raising awareness about drunk driving. The full article is below, or you can read it at

Tombras’ Ad Goes National; Gets Credit for Fewer Traffic Deaths

By Ed Marcum, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is putting high hopes on an anti-drunken driving campaign developed by Knoxville-based Tombras Group.

The television spots show an obviously intoxicated couple walking down the sidewalk to their car. Suddenly an “invisible” police officer, barely distinguishable from a building they just passed, opens his eyes and fixes his gaze on them.

They hop in the car, but before they can drive off, the officer literally materializes out of the side of the building and nabs them.

This is not the first campaign the Tombras Group has done for the NHTSA. The firm did another anti-drunken driving campaign that featured law enforcement officers pulling over drivers in cars filled with booze. The liquid cascades to the ground as the driver rolls down the window. Tombras Group also did the agency’s “Click it or Ticket” campaign, meant to boost seat belt use.

The Tombras Group has been doing highway safety campaigns for the NHTSA since 2004 and according to the agency’s figures, traffic fatalities have dropped 25 percent since 2005, from 43,510 that year to 32,788 in 2010. Three percent of that drop was since 2009, when there were 33,808 fatalities. This decrease occurred despite the fact Americans drove nearly 21 billion miles more in 2010 than in 2009, according to the NHTSA.

“We already know that high-visibility enforcement coupled with targeted education and advertising is an effective way to improve driver safety and curb dangerous practices on America’s roadways,” David Strickland, NHTSA administrator, said in a statement. “Our new “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign uses this proven formula to tackle the problem of drunken driving.”

Alice Mathews, account supervisor for the Tombras Group, said the campaign, which launched nationally in late August to tie in with the Labor Day weekend, is meant to coincide with stepped up periods of police enforcement. The TV spot has been made available to states so it can be used with local campaigns, and another national campaign will be held the last two weeks of the year to tie in with the usual increase in drunken driving over the holidays, she said.

“The key to this is you really need to have high-visibility law enforcement so that they see the TV spot and then they see the police at the same time,” Mathews said.

The Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaigned is aimed at males ages 21 to 34, which is the group the NHTSA said faces the highest risk for drunken driving. Guy Jacobssen, media director for the Tombras Group, said the firm, which has been in business 80 years, had to do extensive research on the “millennials” generation to understand what advertising approach would work with them.

Traditional anti-drunken driving campaigns relied heavily on gory wreck footage and shock value to scare young people into proper behavior, Jacobssen said. That never worked well, he said.

The research showed what many people know — young males tend to think they are invincible. Focus groups found that many millennial males felt that maybe their friends or other people couldn’t drive well drunk, but they could manage it just fine. Some felt they even drove better drunk because they were more cautious.

However, the research showed that young males did fear the police and the consequences of getting caught.

“They didn’t worry so much about hurting themselves or somebody else — they thought they wouldn’t — but they worried about getting arrested or going to jail,” Jacobssen said.

So the campaign needed to use the police as a threat. Rob Simpson, creative director, said a creative team of about 20 people worked on how this should take form. The team determined that people don’t drink and drive if they see a police car parked at the curb but they will take the chance if there are no police around.

“So we came down to the idea that even if they don’t see a cop, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cop there who is going to get them,” Simpson said.

Charles Tombras Jr., CEO and president of the company, said research also showed millennials generally only pay attention to content they consider clever and nonpatronizing.

Millennials are so used to computer-generated effects, they tune them out, but they like trying to figure out effects obviously not done by computer, said David Jacobs, director of innovation and strategy.

That meant the invisible cop effects had to be done the hard way. Actors in the commercials had to stand for up to 10 hours without moving while artists painted them against the backdrop of a wall.

“We got people who were really good at standing still,” Simpson said.