By and large, road safety ads are not a sunny category. Still, this new seatbelt PSA from South Africa manages to be impressively and powerfully dark.
Created by the government of the country's Western Cape province, with help from Y&R, it stars a young couple who make eyes with each other at a party, and spend the rest of the night trying (and failing) to find a place to neck without being interrupted.
By the time they pile into a car with their friends—and the young man opts not to buckle up—it's beyond clear that this particular romance will be short-lived. But even if viewers see disaster coming, "The First Kiss" delivers on a scale that's nothing short of surprising.
The exceptional use of "One More Night" by Michael J. Langley makes the whole thing feel almost like a music video. All the parts are in the right places—even when they're a little off-kilter. The ethereal piano sounds, the sweet and vulnerable vocals, still raw despite being heavily processed, and the lyrical content, nearly perfect for the concept, all combine to simultaneously invite emotional investment in the characters while reinforcing the perception that trouble is brewing.
That tension builds, even as the percussion and strings orchestrate an oddly counterintuitive sense of hopefulness, continuing right through the bass drop ... and even past the moment when everything begins to go horribly wrong.
In other words, the song makes it easy to find yourself rooting for the couple, then praying that someone is going to make it out of the crash in one piece—despite the fact that, in the back of your mind, a not-so-quiet voice is reminding you that the kid is a total dumbass for not strapping himself in.
Sadly, the hero's apparent desire to look carefree has horrific consequences (even if that is a hackneyed trope). His flailing, ping-ponging body succeeds in killing him and everyone else in the car—including his newfound love interest. And while this might feel tiresome and moralizing to teens and twenty-somethings, the outcome nonetheless brings a devastating, often overlooked message into sharp relief.
Passengers who neglect to wear seat belts aren't just putting themselves at risk. They endanger the people they care about. Underscoring this point is the brisk, matter-of-fact way in which the cop on the scene describes who's to blame for the body count.
The ad comes close to collapsing under the weight of its own sense of poetry, notably at the titular moment when the couple's lips finally meet—as he hurtles through space, surrounded by broken glass, full force into her face. But the audio's sudden cut from soulful crooning to wet, bone-crunching thuds is so viscerally gruesome that the clip's flirtations with melodrama quickly dissipate into nausea and sadness.
This is how to make an ad that plays on love, joy, anger, shame and sorrow all at the same time, while also delivering a clear takeaway. Less-polished takes on this execution have already appeared (shown below), and were themselves strong enough to lift seat belt use in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Y&R says the success of those ads inspired the new version, according to socially conscious ad blog Osocio.
A second, less serious piece of advice is also hidden in the PSA: If you hang out with the kinds of people who won't give you an extra five minutes to make out with the cutie you just met before giving you a ride, you should probably find some new friends.
You'll still have to buckle up, though.
Client: Safely Home, Western Cape Department of Transport
Agency Producer: Justin Fraser
ECD: Graham Lang
Creative Director: Nkanyezi Masango
Creative Director: Gareth Cohen
Production Company: Egg Films
Director: Jason Fialkov
Director of Photography: Willie Nel
Producer: Martina Schieder
Executive Producer: Kerry Hosford
Art Director: William Boyes
Postproduction: Upstairs Ludus
Editing: Upstairs Ludus
Editor: Shaun Broude