Wednesday, February 18, 2009


By Roger Pe

Rain or shine, the streets of Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon and commercial hub of Vietnam, are always ‘flooded’. Flooded with motorcycles, so to speak, thus making them one of the most dangerous for pedestrians in Southeast Asia.

On main avenues, on its French-inspired boulevards, newly built roads, even on narrow alleys, Vietnam is awash with motorbikes. One can be sidewiped by these kings of the roads at any unguarded moment.

Neighbor Cambodia is another country inundated with motorbikes. To the uninitiated, the collective thundering sound of these machines is frighteningly deafening.

In both countries, the sound of motorbikes means either the sound of life emerging from the ashes of years of turmoil or the sound of death crashing from a tragic accident.

Where motorcycles are providing cheap transportation alternative because of low-income affordability, gloom is also sitting behind the boom.

There isn’t a single week on Vietnam’s national tv that you won’t hear about accidents involving motorcycles. And God knows how many more are unreported.

A World Health Organization study reports that nearly 1.2 million people involving 25 years old and under from all over the world die of road accidents involving motorcycles every year.

In 2007, after spending 9 years of lobbying the Vietnamese government to introduce compulsory helmet laws, Ho Chi Minh-based Asia’s Injury Prevention Foundation scored a major breakthrough. The bill it was pushing was finally enacted into law.

The bill was passed not because of statistics on deaths and physical disabilities caused by motorbike accidents but on the strength and effectivity of an advertising campaign created by Ogilvy & Mather Vietnam.

The ad campaign aimed at changing Vietnamese people’s attitude towards helmets (that they ruined hair and make them look stupid) showed gruesome outcome of accidents when people fail to wear helmets.

Black and white images of crash victims with their skulls in stitches, screwed with nuts and bolts were used on print, digital ads and postcards. The excuses they reasoned out for not wearing a helmet were printed on them. Billboards were mounted not on stratospheric poles but eyeball to eyeball to commuters on conspicuous street corners.

TV ads focused on the burden that falls on families when caring for a victim (often the breadwinner) who has turned physically and mentally incapacitated.

Bus ads were used for the first time in Vietnam, together with a website supporting the campaign. As a result, hospitals reported a significant drop in accident fatalities by as much as 50% with injuries down by 40% compared to the previous year.

The new Helmet legislation was brought forward by more than 6 months in advance, taking into effect last December 2008.

The icing on the cake: The campaign was Vietnam’s first global creative ad winner, honored by Cannes, Clio, One Show and included in the first World Press Awards annual, all in year 2007.

The same campaign was also the country’s first IPA Effectiveness Award winner in 2008, achieving a higher purpose than just winning creative awards: winning and changing people’s minds. Credits: ECD, Copywriter and Art Director: Ted Notnam; Photographer: James Domingo; Managing Director: Katryna Mojica