Client: ABS Education Alliance (Research Triangle Park, NC)
PR Team: In-house staff and Edelman (Chicago)
Campaign: Intelligent stability and handling systems educational
Time Frame: Summer 2000-ongoing
Budget: About dollars 250,000 for 2000
Even systems designed to save lives can get bad reputations. The
automotive industry learned this the hard way when injuries and even
deaths resulted from misuse and ignorance of things like air bags.
Antilock brake systems, or ABS, also got bad press. Designed to help
drivers maintain control during sudden braking on wet surfaces, early
advertising inaccurately touted ABS as reducing stopping distance. By
1995, research showed no statistical difference between wrecks involving
cars with and without antilocks. So a coalition of brake manufacturers
formed the nonprofit ABS Education Alliance to set the record straight
and teach drivers not to pump their antilock brakes.
New intelligent stability and handling systems, which alliance director
Rosemarie Kitchin calls 'the next evolution in crash avoidance,' began
showing up in luxury vehicles in the late 1990s. These systems combine
ABS, traction control and sensors that detect speed, motion and steering
angle to infer where drivers intend to go and to adjust braking and
engine speed accordingly.
To fill the information void that hampered earlier safety innovations,
the alliance wanted to get the word out about intelligent stability
systems (ISS) when it hit the market last summer, says Jim Gill,
president of the alliance's board and PR director for Continental Teves,
a member brake manufacturer.
ISS necessitates no special driving adjustments, but the ABS Education
Alliance wanted to make people aware of the new technology and its
The group focused attention on the automotive media, traffic safety
specialists and driver education teachers.
For the ISS campaign, Edelman performed technical research and helped
with message development and implementation. One focus group, for
example, found that many affluent drivers were not aware their
automobiles had ISS, Kitchin says. Also, automakers market ISS under
more than 20 brand names, creating an additional challenge for a unified
The alliance hired as a spokesman Sam Memmolo of Atlanta, whose 'Shade
Tree Mechanic' and 'Crank and Chrome' programs appear on cable. Memmolo
visited syndicated automotive writers in major markets for 'desk-side
Kitchin spoke at national and regional conferences hosted by traffic
safety and driver education associations. Forty thousand ISS brochures
were handed out at such events and distributed to everyone who had
requested information about ABS.
The alliance also relied heavily on its Web site. Web acceptance by the
driver's ed community made training materials much easier to disseminate
than in the past, Kitchin notes.
The alliance hasn't yet statistically measured results from the media
campaign but anecdotally has noticed its message and language popping up
in major papers across the country. Its comparison of the modern family
vehicle to the Brady Bunch's station wagon made the lead of a San
Antonio Express News story, for example.
Syndicated columnists for the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Tribune
also wrote articles based on the pitch. A 90-second syndicated feature
on ISS produced by the American Institute of Physics ran on more than
170 public television stations.
ISS messages will be more integrated with ABS awareness. The alliance
will soon update its driver's education curriculum to include ISS
After working with Edelman for five years, the alliance has amicably
parted ways with the agency and is handling all PR and public education