Twenty years ago, I was at a FutureSafe conference in Sydney, Australia, where Eileen McMahon of WorkSafe Victoria showed a series of graphic ads. The audience were impressed and roundly supported the use of such ads in their own States.
At the time confronting ads were de rigueur as road safety campaigns had been using the same technique for a while. Ads from both government authorities won critical acclaim and many awards.
Confronting workplace safety ads recently ran on Canadian television to a mixed reception. WorkSafe Victoria has clearly adapted these ads and their concepts to the Australian circumstance in its campaign that was launched on Australian television on 5 October 2008.
The Australian ads have emphasised the lack of information and induction provided to young workers. Rather than having the incident victim talk to the camera, WorkSafe emphasises the confused thought processes of a young person in a bakery being unsure of how to operate a machine safely, a young man experiments with a nailgun, and a young person scalded in a commercial kitchen.
In The Sunday Age, WorkSafe CEO, John Merritt, said that the graphic content was to gain the attention of young workers:
“It’s confronting, it’s not pleasant, but young workers have challenged us to confront them with the reality of what happens…”
“The guts of this campaign is to say to young workers: for goodness sake, if you’re not sure about something, speak up.”
“”It was clear from the research that nothing else would have impact.”
Media reports make no acknowledgement of the Canadian campaign which seems a little odd given the similarities of the kitchen-based ad, in particular.
The challenge of this type of ad is to run it for just long enough to make an impact but not so long that viewers get “graphic fatigue” – particularly important for appealing to young workers. This is also a lesson that should have been learnt from the original WorkSafe ads a couple of decades ago. The combination of both a workplace safety campaign and road safety campaign using the same techniques limited the effectiveness of both.
There is no doubt about the validity of the safety risks in WorkSafe’s target market but it is vital that these ads be balanced with the more gentle and parent-friendly “homecoming” ads and the workplace inspector ads aimed at business operators. All three should be broadcast over the same period in order to provide the broadest context and the one that reflects the reality.
Clearly, the WorkSafe ad campaign is intended to maximise the retirn on the advertising budget by generating media debate. This was vrtually acknowedlged by John Merritt when he said
“There will undoubtedly be a conversation and a debate about that message.”
A danger with this tactic is that the ads become the story rather than people discussing the safety of young workers. Let’s watch who supports the ads and who criticises.