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Ford Europe cut road accidents involving cyclists with the ‘Emoji Jacket’

WPP Ford Team won the ‘Automotive and transport’ category at The Drum Awards for PR 2021 with its ‘Emoni Jacket’ campaign for Ford Europe. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveal the behind-the-scenes secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

25,000 accidents occur on European roads each year, of which 2,000 are fatal collisions with cyclists. As part of Ford’s Share The Road initiative, designed to improve road safety for everyone, we discovered that there is no common language between cyclists and drivers - leading to near misses and accidents.

As part of our 20-year heritage relationship with Ford, the WPP Ford Team launched a new campaign focusing on this insight – working to bring the conversation to the mainstream media with a powerful story. In addition to building Ford’s profile in mobility and safety, we looked to:

  • Encourage conversation around safer behaviour between motorists and cyclists.

  • Raise awareness of Ford’s Share The Road campaign.

  • Achieve 150+ pieces of coverage across Europe, with 50,000 organic YouTube views.

A key priority was driving coverage for the broader Share The Road campaign while conveying the importance of this specific issue. We needed to create an opportunity for consumers and mainstream media to understand the importance of sharing the road without pointing blame at any road user.

The strategy

Traditional media coverage of the polarising debate between cyclists and drivers on social media is rife with heated exchanges. We needed to find a unique and interesting insight, coupled with innovation, to get cut through on this hot topic in a non-biased way.

Through observations and a small focus group, we identified there is no ‘safe’ common language between cyclists and drivers – a key factor for frayed tempers, conflicts, near misses and accidents on the road.

We are now living – and driving – in a world where communication is crucial. Yet, all too often the dialogue between drivers and cyclists is aggressive, relying on horns or rude gestures to indicate frustration.

We wanted to help encourage understanding and overcome this miscommunication, getting consumers and mainstream media to appreciate the importance of sharing the road by highlighting that clear and non-offensive communication plays an important role in keeping road users safe.

Our strategy was to make the benefits of effective and positive communication relatable and tangible to road users by framing them in an innovative, engaging, and real-world way.

The campaign

Research shows emojis are universally understood and quick enablers to express emotion. Working with a linguist, we found that they are understood faster than words and signs, as they enable instant recognition of emotions and, consequently, are becoming a universal language.

What if we could create a safe and effective way for drivers and cyclists to co-exist by applying them to the road? Promoting clear, non-offensive emoji communication could ease some of the tensions that can often lead to accidents and near-misses.

Using this idea, the WPP Ford Team created a first of its kind ‘Emoji Jacket’ to help cyclists remain visible while safely communicating to other road users their emotions and intentions. The ‘Emoji Jacket’ has an LED display on the rear which shows different emojis that are controlled by a wireless remote that is mounted to the handlebars. The cyclist can indicate, communicate a hazard, and express an emotion to other road users without having to remove their hands from the handlebar.

The working prototype allowed media to try out the asset and access to our linguist opened-up broadcast opportunities, while a suite of visual assets helped secure blanket print and online earned media. Social assets were distributed on our own channels to deliver key messages and expand reach while creating noise and debate across platforms.

The results

The Emoji Jacket generated 648 earned media stories across the world, with an organic social reach of 40.9m – far exceeding our target of 150. And our YouTube video received 150,000 organic views. Coverage appeared in BBC, Metro, Ansa.it, Libero.it, Marca, 20 Minutos, L’Usine Nouvelle, MSN to name a few.

Our road user safety and Share The Road key messages landed in media, delivering on our KPI, with article headlines highlighting how the jacket can ‘help cyclists communicate’, ‘help people share the road’, ‘bridge the gap between cyclists and drivers’, ‘keep people safer’ and ‘help save lives.’

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for PR 2021. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entry, click here.

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