Countdown synopsis: If PSAs aren’t telling us to drive safely or do drugs, chances are they’re telling us to not mix the two together. I’m no mixologist, but what a very murderous cocktail it can be… well at least according to this set of ads anyway. And if graphic scenes of little children being brutally squashed to a pulp by a hefty overturning cars wasn’t enough, we also get to run into a few famous faces along the way – such as Australian criminal-turned-celebrity Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, English actor and writer Daniel Ryan, Scottish actor Ken Stott and English actress, TV presenter and radio DJ Denise Van Outen. Oh the joys!
“A lot of you people might be very upset that I’m doing this commercial. But I’m advertising something I know a great deal about – and that’s killing.
I’ve shot people. I’ve baseball batted them to death. I’ve iron barred them to death. I’ve stabbed them to death. I’ve set fire to them.
If you get into a car, and you’ve been drinking too much, and you kill somebody, then you’re no different than me. That’s all it is. You’re a murdering maggot.”
– Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, Australian celebrity criminal and author (1954–2013)
10: “Mike and Joy” – Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), 1999 (UK)
Starting the list is the first of a set of DETR ads directed by Mehdi Norowzian for their “What’s it like to lose/kill someone?” millennium campaign (that’s also my favourite advertising campaign of all time). This one in particular was the winner of a Bronze Arrow Award at the 2000 British Arrows, and upon watching it, you will see why. The ads follow actual testimonies of real people involved in drink driving fatalities. This one isn’t as scary as the other ones featured much later in the countdown, but it is still very chilling. We listen to two grieving parents as they explain how their daughter, named Michelle, died when a drink driver smashed into the back of her car, causing her to die of fatal head injuries. It may sound a bit tame initially, but the arthouse-styled cinematography accompanied by the haunting ominous music is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. The opening shot of the angel figurine that’s enough to remind anyone of the pant-wetting Weeping Angel statues from Doctor Who doesn’t help matters either. But I love them. Seriously. I love these commercials so much. Although I don’t physically remember seeing any of these on TV when I was younger, they will forever hold a special place in my heart. Artistically, they are works of cinematographic brilliance. And this first one is just the tip of the iceberg. Just you wait until we get to the other ones. They’re enough to give you a few sleepless nights, guaranteed!
9: “Hate” – Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA), 2001 (Australia)
Next up is another first from a set of adverts starring the notorious Australian criminal-turned-celebrity Mark Brandon Read, predominantly known as ‘Chopper’. According to his Wikipedia page, Read started out by kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld. During his time in prison, he succumbed to many injuries (such as being impaled by a claw hammer through his brain and slashed many times with sharp implements), as well as having both of his ears cut off by a fellow inmate in order to transfer from divisions to avoid an ambush – although this story tends to vary. After being released from prison for the final time in 1998, he began writing a series of semi-autobiographical fictional crime novels and children’s books, as well as releasing a hip hop album and having the 2000 Australian crime film ‘Chopper’ made after him. Before dying in late 2013 of liver cancer caused by hepatitis he contracted during prison from an infected razor, he revealed during his final interview for the Australian programme 60 Minutes that he murdered four men – one of which he was previously questioned for by police but was never convicted. It was his flippancy and total lack of remorse that was the most disturbing about his confession. You can watch his final ever interview here if you wish. Anyway, back to the ads he starred in for the Pedestrian Council of Australia, we see Read sitting at a kitchen table in his humble abode. He describes to the camera that although one may hate him because of his previous malefactor lifestyle, a drink driver that’s unfortunate enough to kill somebody doesn’t make them any less different to what he is: “you’re a murdering maggot just the same as I am.” And he is pretty much right. A killer is a killer – just like the tagline reads. I find Read’s set of commercials especially chilling, as we feel a somewhat sense of isolation: after all, we are essentially sat talking one-on-one with a callous murderer. If that’s not enough to give you goosebumps, I don’t know what is.
8: “Dave” – Safety on the Move (COI), 1990 (UK)
Of what is probably the UK’s most notorious anti drink-driving campaign of all time, Safety On The Move were particularly known for their Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives campaign. They featured a string of adverts that were very hard-hitting to say the least, and almost certainly never pulled any punches. And after watching this ad, you’ll never want to pester or be persuaded by your friends to have one more drink before driving ever again. This commercial (starring Daniel Ryan) soon became a timeless classic, and the famous one-liner, “Come on Dave, just one more”, was branded into the minds of nearly every British household during the 1990s. Even recently I jokingly referenced it during one of my conversations with my forty-something year old mother. Naturally, she laughed and questioned me on how the hell I know about it when I wasn’t even born when it aired. I obviously brushed it off fairly quickly to hide the fact that I am a PIF nerd: “I came across it on YouTube or something…” I joked. Little does she know I run a YouTube channel dedicated to these sort of adverts, and not to mention I have also purchased 3 PIF collection DVDs that I have kept hidden way discreetly in my bedroom drawer. Anyways, it’s probably a bit too late to warn you to put aside that porridge or Weetabix or any other food with a liquidised lumpy consistency for the duration of this ad. The way the blended Sunday lunch oozes out through his idle lips gives me a knotted stomach every time. The screenshot below probably doesn’t help much either. Sorry about that.
7: “Killer” – PCA, 2001 (Australia)
In this second segment of Interview with the Murderer, we hear Chopper solemnly describe his gruesome criminal antics, like how he shot people, stabbed them to death and set fire to them. All whilst he is chillingly staring straight into the camera, almost making us feel paralysed with fear. He is also wearing one of the most horrible-looking shirts I’ve ever seen. No but seriously, the way he stares into your soul during this commercial almost makes you feel that you’ve already committed the crime. You’re mentally preparing yourself for the gruelling torture of prison even without doing a single thing wrong. You Australians certainly know how to make innocent people feel like murdering scumbags, don’t you? Crikey, mate.
6: “Shame” – Department of the Environment (DOE), 2001 (UK)
Another bunch of people that love to make innocent people feel like they are giving the likes of Adolf Hitler a run for his money are the lovely Northern Irish folk from the DOE. If you have seen any of their ads before, you should know that they have a very specific niche for overturning cars flattening young children into mush. They also like using the word “shame” a lot, to really twist the knife in. I think this is their first child-pummelling ad they produced that graphically showed an innocent young boy being pulverised by a hefty lump of metal travelling towards him at full velocity. Bloody hell. I remember seeing this ad for the first time when it was featured on Tarrant on TV (god, I miss that programme) and it scarred me for life. Not so much now, though. When I watch it back the trickery looks very amateur. Here’s a quick little challenge for you: watch the crash scene in slow motion and see if you can spot anything unusual. Then come back and continue reading so I won’t spoil anything for you. Okay, go! Are you finished? So did you spot anything strange? Okay, first thing I spotted was the split-second hand throwing a blade to cut the top off the flowers. Second thing was the blatant crash dummy sat in the drivers seat straight after (but weirdly equipped with arm pads, so perhaps a real stuntman?). And thirdly how the car was designed for this particular stunt, as shown by the roll cage clearly visible through the sunroof. Of course none of these continuity errors take away the overall effectiveness of the ad. It’s still exemplified by the blood-curdling screams of the young girl who just witnessed her older brother being violently crushed to death right in front of her eyes. Yeah… when I put it that way, it still gives enough nightmare fuel to last you a lifetime. Sweet dreams!
5: “Eyes” – Safety on the Move, 1992 (UK)
If the scare tactics used in the Dave commercial two years prior wasn’t enough to make viewers think twice about getting into a car after a drink or two, Eyes would certainly not shy away from using yet another brutal hard-hitting scenario once again. Starring future TV presenter Denise van Outen, Eyes consists entirely of a single slow pull-back from a young woman’s face. With her eyes fixed and dilated, we hear the paramedics desperately trying to revive her, but to no avail. The audio is accompanied by an offscreen conversation with a police officer quizzing the driver about whether he has been drinking. Despite the driver’s pleas that he only had “a quick one” and that he “didn’t mean it”, it clearly hasn’t made any difference as paramedics announce the woman as being in an asystolic state (meaning her heart has completely stopped and death imminently follows), before the commercial cuts to black and ending with the infamous tagline. Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives? No. More like, Drinking and Driving Wrecks Minds, or ‘Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives’ Wrecks Minds! Try saying that three times fast.
4: “Prison” – PCA, 2001 (Australia)
In this final PCA ad featuring Mark “Chopper” Read (which is undoubtably the most chilling out of the three), he guides us through the horrifying extent of his injuries he sustained whilst in prison. He points to his skin much like how one would point at the different points of interest on a roadmap, except for local landmarks we get scars from the many times he was slashed by cut throat razors, butcher knives, and ice picks. How fun! Seriously though, aside from being a callous murderer and all that, Chopper Reid seemed like a proper badass. I mean, come on… it takes guts made out of steel to order one of your fellow inmates to cut your own ears off. And if you ever listen to him describe it, it’ll certainly leave knots in your stomach – but his witty prison anecdotes are still rather comical. Not only that, he also starred in another commercial for a domestic violence charity, and Read (once again) certainly doesn’t shy away from making you feel like a lowlife scumbag despite you being completely innocent: effing and blinding like nobody’s business. I guess for most Australians, Chopper Read was a bit like Marmite (or rather, Vegemite): you either loved him, or hated him. And I guess that’s why Chopper Read is still one of the most notorious celebrity criminals of all time.
3: “David” – DETR, 1999 (UK)
We continue on with the psychological horror that is the DETR “What’s it like to kill someone?” series. Here we have David (at least, that’s what I think his name is), sat in a very eery prison hall as he describes the time he killed an old woman whilst drinking and driving. This one, as well as the “Terry” and “John” ones, features a wide range of very creepy cinematographic visuals much like you’d see in that tape from The Ring. We get an unknown man in just his underwear prancing about in a blackened void like a performing arts student gone mad, creepy and isolating shots of misty roads and foggy carriageways, shots of worms squiggling and blood gushing, all of which give a very foreboding and unsettling atmosphere. And, obviously, the cinematic rumbling and bellowing ambience doesn’t help with things either. But god, I bloody love them. All four of these ads. They’re just so artistically and visually brilliant.
2: “Kathy” – Safety on the Move, 1991 (UK)
We’ve arrived at the penultimate, and it’s probably the most well-known and most referenced ad in regards to notoriously chilling anti drink-driving ads. Directed by the genius that is Tony Kaye, all we get to see is a lingering close-up of a young girl (known as Kathy), accompanied with a very angst and concerned look on her face. We hear an offscreen argument between Kathy’s mother and father, of whom she is yelling at for killing a young boy whilst he was drink driving. The way in which Kathy innocently stares into the camera, whilst tears slowly begin fill her eyes as she reacts to every word her mother is saying, would firstly make you feel as though we are viewing from the mother’s perspective as she shouts at poor young Kathy. And that’s what makes this ad so artistically brilliant in its execution. Unless Kathy herself managed to down a few pints and somehow mistook her parents car for her Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, and got done drink driving… which is, you know, always a possibility. Without making the mood too lighthearted, we reach the pinnacle of heart-wrenching terror just before we cut to black. Kathy’s tears have now overfilled her eyes and have trickled down the sides of her rose-red cheeks. The only time Kathy actually looks away from the camera in the ad is immediately cut short by the loud shrieks of her mother as she bellows a final and demanding, “Look at me!” – of which causes Kathy to peer back at the camera once more in what is undoubtedly the most harrowing and prominent part of the ad. To this day I still wonder how exactly they made the little girl cry like that – either she was a really good young actress, or they strangled a cat in front of her or something. Either way, unethically sacrificing children’s raw emotions just for the sake of a 40-second-long PIF always pays off in the end.
1: “Terry” – DETR, 1999 (UK)
Here we are. We’ve reached number one. And this ad rightfully deserves the top spot, for all the right reasons. As stated previously, it’s another one of those creepy premillennial DETR ads with the weird underwear guy and all those arthouse, bizarre and visually unsettling cutaways. It makes me feel as though some weird scraggy girl with long and matted black hair will crawl out of my TV screen after seven days. I’d tell her to bugger off though, cheeky little bint. Anyways, this ad deems to be the scariest of them all, mainly because Terry sounds the most forbidding and disquieting. And for me, this one in particular really puts the icing on the cake. And I don’t even know why. I literally cannot put my finger on this one. Perhaps it’s because this was the first one of the type that I ever saw. Perhaps that uneasiness I felt from when I first watched it a decade or so ago has still stuck with me to this day. I cannot get it out of my head, and yet, these ads (outside the PIF community of course) are either completely overlooked or generally underappreciated. They’re brilliant, all of them. They should have won countless awards. They should have been up there with that Guinness ‘Surfer’ ad and that woman singing about shaking and vacing. But here it is, and here it is only. But, I do like to think of it as a rare gem I’ve managed to unearth, that I’ve put on display in all its beautiful glory in my own display cabinet. Come on in, take a seat, and get ready to be marvelled.
Honourable Mentions… who doesn’t like a few of them, am I right? Totally not ripping off the concept as featured on the boringly-mundane WatchMojo.com (although people will say the same thing about my videos, but each to their own), here’s a few ads that almost made it into the final cut of the video, but ultimately did not. Or maybe, as some people have speculated, I did it solely to make the video longer than 10 minutes so I could turn on mid-roll ads and earn a bit more revenue. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t want to leave my viewers with a cut short video after my usual 3-month-long hiatuses. We may never know…
Honourable Mention #1: “Saturday Night Alt.” – Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 2003 (Canada)
Saturday Night, dance, I like the way you drive? Far from it, pretty baby. In fact this ad is apparently based on the actual manslaughter of officer Ross Campbell. Couldn’t find any news articles on the internet about it though. And I’m not entirely sure why it’s called “Saturday Night Alt.” either. Is this an alternative version of the original ad or something? If so, I wanna damn well see it. But I’m guessing this version is better anyway, considering this is the only ‘version’ out there. Either way, I don’t like the ominous music that plays near the end, and the visuals of the officer’s corpse just laying there in an empty street is quite creepy as well.
Honourable Mention #2: “Jacqueline” – Texas Department of Transport, 2004 (USA)
I remember first seeing this ad back in like 2006 when YouTube first came out and Google Video was still a thing. Do you guys remember Google Video? It was like YouTube… but better. Anyway, if you have not heard about her already, this ad features Jacqueline Saburido, a real burn survivor who has devoted her life to campaigning against drink driving after a head-on collision with a drink driver, of which killed two of her friends and left her permanently disfigured. Jacqueline suffered second and third degree burns covering over 60% of her body, after her car subsequently caught on fire and left her trapped in the blaze for 45 seconds until a fire truck arrived. With a Baux score of around 80, Jacqueline probably only had a 20% survival rate. And you can just about imagine how long that 45 seconds must have been for her, and how horrifying and gruesome the scenes must have been. But the most inspiring bit about her story is how she said she completely forgives Reginald Stephey, the driver that caused the crash, and wishes him every hope to rebuild his life. She’s also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show a few times. It’s a very touching story, indeed.
Honourable Mention #3: “Fireman’s Story” – COI, 1988 (UK)
Fireman’s Story, also referred to as A Fireman’s Tale, stars Scottish actor Ken Stott who plays a fireman (go figure) in yet another Safety On The Move ad. After returning to the fire station from a call, he describes how he “and the new lad” attended a scene of an accident where a woman was killed in an accident caused by a drink driver. Although desperately trying to maintain his cool and professional temperament, he eventually snaps after recollecting the excruciating moment when they “found the baby”. He then begins a scathing and enraged outburst about the driver that had “kept on saying it wasn’t his fault, but he’d been drinking hadn’t he.” After his fit of rage, he reclines back into his chair to regain his composure: “I don’t know how he’ll ever live with himself.”
Honourable Mention #4: “John” – DETR, 1999 (UK)
I was actually sent this accidentally whilst enquiring about the other DETR ads, so funnily enough, I had never seen this one before. The ad is exactly like all the other ads, but this time starring a man named John, who looks like your typical middle-aged man you’d find down your local pub, playing darts and smelling heavily of booze and urine. He probably smokes and has a lot of conservative opinions too, and leaves to the pub each night wallowing in self-pity after having numerous rows (Brit for arguments) with the missus. His daytime probably consists of him eating his own earwax, sat in his armchair that stinks of fags (Brit for cigarettes), with the cushion that has been left with the unsightly imprint of his own buttocks, whilst munching away on endless amounts of cheese and onion crisps and assorted nuts, and watching good old fashioned antique programmes like Bargain Hunt. That or he’s just a generally alright guy, who was unfortunate enough to accidentally kill someone driving home from the pub, after having one too many pints. But I prefer the former.