This PSA Tackles the ‘Mate Code’ That Keeps Guys From Stopping Their Drunk Friends From Driving

New Zealand campaign aims to reach the 20-something bro

We should probably take his keys. NZ Transport Agency

In a somewhat similar fashion to Palau, New Zealand takes its protection of the environment. As one enters the country, signs are prominently displayed articulating the strict laws designed to keep the island nation beautiful. Additionally, this ethos is ingrained in the country’s culture and people.

Kiwi attitudes for drunken driving is similarly intense. Like pretty much any country, New Zealanders look at drunken driving as a massive no-no, but what seems different is how the message is embedded throughout its culture. Look no further than the many checkpoints for drink-driving (the term used there) and one can see how seriously the issue is taken.

Since 1995, when drunk-driving campaigns started in earnest, attitudes have shifted to the positive, with 7 percent of women and 27 percent of men saying they would be comfortable driving after two drinks. Though there has been positive momentum, there is still room for improvement, especially in the country’s rural areas and among young males from the ages of 20-29.

“Despite significant shifts in drink-driving behavior, there’s still work to be done in provincial areas, particularly among young men,” said NZ Transport Agency principal adviser Rachel Prince. “We know that getting these guys to intervene — when they likely aren’t sober themselves — is a tough challenge.”

To that end, the New Zealand Transport Agency and their long-standing agency, Clemenger BBDO released “Dilemmas,” a long-form ad explicitly targeting that young audience, where driving after drinking is still considered acceptable.

In the spot, a character named Jono makes an attempt to drive after a night of partying. His mates ask if he’s OK, only to see that he’s definitely not right for being behind the wheel. The twist, however, is not necessarily his well-being, but rather the fact that Jono is the only person who can get everyone past cantankerous landowner Mad Mick to get to their favorite surfing spot. They think through who else could get them to the water, then realize that Jono is the sole way for them to reach the beach.

“There’s a full mate code in place with these guys, and stopping someone from driving drunk is seen as a bit disrespectful to their manhood,” said Brigid Alkema, Clemenger BBDO’s ECD. “This work aims to reframe what intervention means, from protecting their mate to protecting their unique and irreplaceable mateship.”

Getting a locale to surf seems an odd way to want to save someone, but the creative leans on some key insight and strategy that makes sense.

“The other thing we’re fighting with these Kiwi blokes is no matter how much they care about each other, they’ll never say it,” added Alkema. “So it’s easier for them to justify their concern as ‘you’re useful to us.’”

This is the latest work for the campaign (you can see two other ads below) by director Steve Ayson, who leads production company, 3&7. For his part, he saw an opportunity to break the “mate code” in a way that connects with the target audience.

“In real life, these guys are constantly trying to out hard-out each other,” he said. “But at the same time, they would do anything for their crew. My approach is an aggressive combination of hard-out idiocy injected with a deep connection between loyal friends.”


Client: NZ Transport Agency
Agency: Clemenger BBDO Wellington
Production Company: 3&7
Media Agency: OMD Wellington

Principal Scientist: Paul Graham
Principal Advisor, Advertising: Rachel Prince

Director: Steve Ayson
Producer: Larisa Tiffin

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.