Skip to main content

Branding Traffic Safety: The Road Ahead



A brand is not just a logo or advertising slogan – it’s your organization’s program identity. Your brand is the “visual, emotional, rational and cultural image” associated with your company or product. It’s whatever comes to mind when consumers hear your name.

Successful branding makes for a powerful brand experience.

Consider Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. These iconic brands are an indelible part of our shared corporate culture, evoking strong awareness and generally positive sentiment. Nike’s swoosh is now a stand-alone icon that works without the Nike name. The same thing is true of the silhouette of Coke’s distinctive hourglass bottle or McDonald’s signature golden arches.

Good branding = trust.

NHTSA’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign has achieved brand icon status, meaning the phrase is instantly recognizable and saturates the national psyche – an important reason to continue to use the phrase during mobilization periods.

Building the Brand

Once a year, NHTSA encourages partners and states to support the “Click It or Ticket” mobilization in May and the national Impaired Driving crackdowns in August and December. By leveraging our combined efforts to promote a unified brand focused on highly visibility enforcement, the traffic safety industry is able to reach most of the country with consistent messaging. Together, we are affecting positive change.

These traffic safety campaigns are successful, because they follow the same marketing tenets used by brand icons, Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s:

  1. Know what you stand for – McDonald’s stands for fast service and consistent taste and price. People recognize, understand and react to messages from established brands. Federal, state and local funds invested in “Click It or Ticket” have built substantial brand equity for this ongoing initiative.
  2. Establish credibility – Coca-Cola means “refreshment,” just as “Click It or Ticket” means “consequences.” High visibility enforcement is crucial to establish credibility and demonstrate to consumers that the message is not an empty threat. Research shows that 18-34-year-old males are more concerned about paying fines than losing their lives. Delivering on the “brand promise” through vigilant enforcement makes “Click It or Ticket” effective.
  3. Stand out from the clutter – Because consumers are constantly bombarded with messaging via multiple media platforms, brands have to be memorable and relevant. If there’s no connection, there’s no action on the part of the consumer. The challenge is to reach your consumers where they are – whether that means traditional print, TV, radio and outdoor advertising or via social media and other digital channels. Brands must be nimble and adapt to changing media consumption habits without sacrificing message strategy. 
    • For example, Nike has used cutting-edge graphic design to establish its multi-platform “Just Do It” advertising campaign. The sportswear and equipment manufacturer has seamlessly translated its brand equity to viral videos to reach today’s “experiential” audience.
  4. Get the word out – Like politics, marketing is about reaching local people in their daily lives, connecting with individuals and building trust. National ads and outreach reinforce local marketing efforts by raising top-of-mind awareness about a brand. It’s essential to promote at both the national and the grassroots level in order to get the word out about distracted driving and wearing seatbelts.
    • As social networking gains popularity, consumer-driven content is becoming more and more relevant. People trust their peers and are influenced by their online interactions. Social media provides yet another channel for NHTSA and its partners to build relationships, establish credibility and positively influence behavior.

Sustaining the Brand

NHTSA sponsors an annual seat belt mobilization and two Impaired Driving crackdowns in order to bring national attention to these issues through targeted enforcement blitzes. During the rest of the year, we encourage localities to leverage these national efforts in their respective communities. A good approach is to launch an appropriate mix of local enforcement and “social-norming” media campaigns to extend your core highway safety messaging. The media mix depends on the market, but developing a marketing calendar will help you plan your coverage to peak during periods of highly visible enforcement.

As we work together to convince and remind people to buckle up and designate a sober driver, there are several “best practices” to keep in mind in order to sustain the brand:

  1. Keep your eye on your brand – Your brand works as long as you work it. Complacency has led to the demise of many once relevant brands. By the same token, venerable but sluggish brands can be reinvigorated through fresh creative. Consider Old Spice’s resurgence via YouTube videos featuring the now iconic “Old Spice Guy” and how about Planter’s giving voice to its classic mascot, Mr. Peanut through Robert Downey, Jr.?
  2. Make your advertising distinctive and support your creatives – Behind every good brand is an army of designers, writers, photographers, videographers and programmers. These “creatives” do their best work when “non-creatives,” i.e., clients and marketing people stay out of the way. Support your creatives as long as they support your brand. Giving them freedom to express your brand will result in distinctive, memorable advertising that isn’t diluted by too much input.
  3. Empower your employees to be brand ambassadors – Make your brand everyone’s responsibility. If your people take ownership in your message and feel empowered to share it, there’s an exponential effect to your marketing efforts., the online shoe retailer, is famous for its engaged employees and its energizing corporate culture. This type of engagement creates a halo effect for your brand.
  4. Practice timely crisis communications – The most common communications mistake in a crisis is failing to weigh in on an issue in a timely fashion. Even if you don't have all the answers, say something. Organizations are often paralyzed by inaction, afraid to respond for fear of saying the wrong thing. It's better to admit that the situation is fluid and you're working on a solution than to say nothing at all.  Protect the brand equity you’ve established by responding quickly in a crisis.

The Social-Norming Challenge

Like commercial marketers, traffic safety campaign managers have the same basic challenge: affecting consumer behavior. Typically, most commercial campaigns focus on getting you to choose their product or service over another brand. Commercial advertising creates desire to fulfill a need on the part of the consumer. In social norming, the challenge is tougher because the objective is to “sell” consumers to doing something they might not want to do, like wearing a seatbelt.

Social norming is behavior modification. Consequently, it’s not enough to raise awareness. The key to influencing consumer behavior is understanding what motives consumers. NHTSA has conducted extensive research to glean insights about our targeted populations. For instance, with 18-34-year-old makes, the data clearly indicates that the primary motivator for wearing a seatbelt is the credible threat of being ticketed and losing money. Brand consistency, reach and frequency reinforce the new social norm of buckling up.

Partnerships Leverage Branding

Using other nationally recognized non-enforcement slogans like “Buckle Up America” and “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” allow you to extend the core message without over-saturating your audience with the strong enforcement language. Furthermore, you can forge marketing partnerships with sports organizations and businesses (already familiar to and “consumed” by your target audience) that are more comfortable with positive reinforcement language.

NHTSA greatly values its strong alliances with America’s highway safety and law enforcement partners at the national, state and local level. You are the grassroots extension of our shared brand. Working together to create and disseminate branding that resonates with consumers, we can save lives on the road ahead.


  • planningevent-334x100-L.jpg
  • socialmedia-334x100-L.jpg