You’ve probably already met Graham. He’s the bullet-headed mascot for the Australian road safety campaign that conquered the world. Within the first week of launching back in July 2016, the unconventional front man with a waterfall of inflatable pseudo-nipples trickling down his front had attracted 10.8 million website views. Within ten days, he had featured in 150 broadcast news stories, 700 online news articles and had reached over 8.8 million people across Facebook and Twitter. Yes, you’ve probably already met Graham.
The incredibly popular artwork was created for the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). It’s an organisation owned by the local government in Victoria, that works to reduce traffic-related trauma, as well as acting as a social insurer for those injured in accidents and working to improve road infrastructure. Samantha Cockfield, Senior Manager of Road Safety at TAC says the team were keen to take a different approach to b road safety education. They recognised that if they were to reduce road traffic injuries significantly, they had to look beyond the usual campaigns that target ‘bad behaviour’, like speeding or drinking.
“Any loss of life was unacceptable, and reducing trauma instead of eliminating it wasn’t acceptable either. We needed to acknowledge that road trauma wasn’t just about people’s behaviour, it was about making mistakes. We all make mistakes, even the best-intentioned drivers, riders and pedestrians,” she says.
“Our hope was to create something that would make the community stop, reflect and be open to learning about their vulnerability on the roads” – Evan Roberts, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
It fell to TAC’s creative agency, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, to figure out how to tease out a tricky brief. Communicating the concept of human vulnerability is a little more complex than ‘Speed Kills’. Where Cockfield and the team at TAC had expected the usual above-the-line combination of TV commercial/ online film with print and radio ads, the agency responded with an idea that was much more layered – an interactive work of art that would depict what a human might look like had they evolved to survive road traffic accidents. The ultimate piece of intelligent design.
“From the beginning, our hope was to create something that would make the community stop, reflect and be open to learning about their vulnerability on the roads,” explains Clemenger BBDO Creative Director Evan Roberts, who worked on the project with his creative partner and fellow CD Stephen De Wolf.
As renowned artist Patricia Piccinini joined, with trauma surgeon Christian Kenfield, crash investigator expert David Logan, the idea evolved into a project of intellectual substance. And while all that makes Graham’s subsequent success seem almost inevitable, it was a risky project for all involved.
“There was no doubt in my mind, when I saw the concept, that they [Clemenger] had been able to capture what b we needed. It was the idea we were looking for and the insight was there. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it was quite risky. What would the Victorian community make of him? Making a piece of high art is not a cheap exercise,” says Cockfield. It’s also a piece of work that relies on the intellectual curiosity of the audience – another risk.
Backing Graham meant the TAC team putting their professional reputation (and their nerves) on the line. But thanks to their experience and deep understanding of the community, they knew when to pick their battles – and this was an idea worth fighting for.
In the end, those frayed nerves were worth it. The public loved Graham. Media coverage was 98.6% positive. Thanks to some smart PR, both international and local audiences were highly engaged.
“It was the idea we were looking for and the insight was there. it’s hard to imagine it now, but it was quite risky. What would the victorian community make of him?” – Samantha Sockfield, TAC
“It wasn’t until we completed Graham that we knew we had something compelling enough to create some intrigue. We looked to the behaviour of provocative artists like Hirst or Banksy and saw they gathered attention quickly by launching through the news. From here the PR strategy we developed was to engage local news channels, along with influencers in the art and science fields, inviting them to be the first to ‘Meet Graham’,” says Matt Pearce, Senior Planner at Clemenger BBDO.
There was no specific media buy behind Graham; the team were banking on earned media and online presence. Melbourne media outlets received embargoed information ahead of the launch, and arts and science media were contacted with specially tailored releases. Within hours of the launch, Graham was appearing on the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera (and CR). Samantha notes that the fact that Graham straddled both the art and science community was a ‘lucky’ quirk that allowed them to gain traction with special interest groups, thus amplifying the international interest.
Ultimately, no amount of clever PR can outperform a weak idea: Graham was strong. “It just shows you that when b you’ve got something interesting, that organic reach works. You could not have bought what we got with Graham,” says Samantha.
Ten months on from Graham’s launch, he’s also been a hit with the creative community, picking up a Black Pencil at this year’s D&AD Awards, Best of Show at the recent New York Festivals and Best in Print & Outdoor at the One Show. With the Cannes Lions on the horizon, even the notoriously competitive Australian advertising community is getting behind Graham as the country’s best hope for a top award.
“It just shows you that when you’ve got something interesting, that organic reach works. you could not have bought what we got with graham” – Samantha Cockfield, TAC
Larissa Meikle is a journalist who writes for local ad mag Campaign Brief. “Meet Graham certainly dominated headlines here in Australia and is a spectacular, innovative idea that holds up on the creative world stage,” she says. “We are all rallying behind it to do very well at Cannes!”
That award success is affirmation that a strong creative idea is worth being brave for. “It’s the icing on the cake and validation that we should continue to try and do things to the very best of our ability. If you can recognise good work, others will recognise it as well,” says Cockfield.
The success of Graham, this odd, lumpy, loveable fella, reveals an important lesson: Great work is as much about a client willing to back an idea as it is about those who devise said idea. “We pinched ourselves when our clients were brave enough to say yes,” says Clemenger BBDO’s Stephen De Wolf. “We pinched ourselves when one of Australia’s most brilliant contemporary artists came on board. We pinched ourselves when the world started talking about him. We pinch ourselves at the industry recognition…. Needless to say, we are pretty badly bruised!”