The Colorado Department of Transportation is abandoning a social media campaign to encourage pedestrian safety after some people found it offensive.
"Hank's How to Get Hit by a Car" series launched last month on Facebook and YouTube. It consists of four video clips featuring a sleazy old-school pitchman selling VHS tapes that purport to teach pedestrians "patented moves" such as "The Scotch and Soda Stumble" and "The Texter Tuck and Roll." The tapes show a dude in a sweatsuit getting hit by a car, followed by this message from Hank: "For the rest of you mere mortals who choose not to purchase my tapes, crossing safely is your only hope."
The campaign was aimed at young males. Fifty-five of the 65 pedestrians who were killed last year in pedestrian-car crashes were male, according to CDOT.
“While we use humor in this campaign to maximize our reach and get people’s attention, the bottom line is that pedestrian safety is a serious topic,” CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said in a statement last month. “This campaign raises awareness and provides the entertainment value we need to create a provocative, unexpected and lasting impression on pedestrians.”
But was the message too provocative?
Our Michael Roberts found the videos amusing, but many Facebook users did not. Here's a sampling of comments left on the "Hank's How to Get Hit by a Car Series" Facebook page:
Distasteful. I am embarrassed that CDOT picked this up. This vid is an INSULT to those who have lost loved ones in motor vehicle vs. pedestrian accidents. Victim blaming solves no problems. Tell the motoring public to hand up their phones and concentrate on their driving.
Pull this crap immediately, this is an insult, and is giving your organization a black eye. Cars just need to slow down and not assume they own the road. Build better roads too!
Not funny. Not appropriate. Make roads safer for pedestrians and train drivers than human life is worth more than their convenience—learn that lesson as well CDOT.
I wonder what other types of unfortunate death CDOT could ridicule? Adding a stroller and a wheelchair to the apparent hit and run would really crank up the entertainment value. How about a kid on a bike? An older woman with a walker? HILARIOUS!!
You suck! Build more crosswalks and bike lanes.
Given that reaction, Cole says CDOT is pulling the Hank videos. "We will be shifting the campaign to make it less offensive," he says.
"Even though people understand the cheesy, sarcastic humor around the video and a lot of people have seen the video, we don't want anybody to misinterpret that to think that pedestrians shouldn't be taken seriously," Cole says, noting that the ninety-second video has nearly 10,000 views on YouTube.
"Pedestrian safety should be taken very seriously."
The campaign always had two components: the Hank videos and safety messages spray painted at crosswalks in the Denver metro area. The campaign will now focus on those messages, Cole says.
The messages are also humorous — and Cole says that approach is a great way to get people's attention. "Once we've got their attention, we can educate them and raise awareness," he says.
But the humor approach doesn't always work the way officials envision. Some campaigns, Cole says, "just tend to be more controversial than others."