CAMPAIGNS: Consumer Education - Bad press prompts educationinitiative

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

communications campaign.


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

tasks in-house.

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