Kevin Miller and chatbot Didi: a force to be reckoned with

Kevin greets me in the lobby of his office building looking dapper, dressed in a head-to-toe burgundy suit. We’ve met before, at an event where he spoke about his work on the Don’t Drive High campaign—the exact reason that I am here. I want to learn more about this successful campaign that has reached and impacted many Canadians.

There are some things in life that we just inherently know and we never really question how. For example, we know that socks and sandals is a fashion faux pas. Now, if you’ve ever had to convince someone that socks and sandals is a bad idea, you already know how difficult facilitating behavioural change can be. But in the same breath, behavioural change is effective. That’s exactly what Kevin Miller and his communications team at Public Safety Canada set out to do, on a larger, more serious scale: develop an indubitable understanding among youth between 16 and 24 years of age in Canada that driving while high, or accepting a ride from a high driver is absolutely unsafe and unacceptable.

Kevin and I sit down in a boardroom too big and too serious for just the two of us, but our conversation continues organically nonetheless. “We want youth to view drug-impaired driving the same way they currently view drunk driving. Where we are at with drug-impaired driving in 2019 is equivalent to drinking and driving in the 80s” Kevin says. He explains to me that the team partnered with those behind the behavioural change campaigns related to drinking and driving to adopt some of the lessons learned and best practices from like-minded initiatives.

Know your audience

Everything about this campaign is research driven, and the partnerships are strategic. But the secret ingredient—if you will—can be summed up in three simple words from Kevin, “know your audience.”

“Know your audience.”

“After an extensive research exercise, everyone around the table at Public Safety quickly realized who the target audience for this is, and that those of us around the table were not it,” Kevin explains. What they gathered about this audience group is that they are adept at social media but have an abundance of content to absorb, which meant the envelope needed to be pushed to get the message out there effectively. “The interesting thing about this audience is that once you put the message out there, the youth are good at policing themselves. For every naysayer, there will be someone from that exact target audience who will come in and speak up” Kevin says. The beauty of social media is that it facilitates natural conversation among its users.

To really home in on this audience, the delivery of the Don’t Drive High campaign leveraged the convenience factor.

  • The campaign focused on social media channels, and online games, which were proven to be effective among this audience group.
  • The campaign followed its audience, covering college and university campuses across the country during the semester, then shifting to bars and restaurants as students went home for the holidays.
  • The campaign also attended events—such as large-scale music festivals—held by organizations who host events for this demographic and held experiential marketing activities on site.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” This campaign brought its message right up to the doorsteps of its audience.

Who is Didi?

Knowing that they already have a strong Facebook presence, the campaign drove traffic to the Don’t Drive High Facebook page where users would encounter Didi, the chatbot embedded into the instant messaging feature on Facebook. Didi also popped up as an ad where a click-through would immediately prompt a conversation with the chatbot. This specifically targeted party planners and users accepting invitations to parties.

“We can’t rest on our laurels and lose sight of the fact that true behavioural change takes a long time to successfully occur. We have achieved early success, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Didi is truly impressive. So impressive, in fact, that after Didi was taken down following the conclusion of advertising activities in early 2018, Canadians spoke up to bring Didi back; Public Safety obliged by extending the chatbot’s presence for another two months after that. Didi did it all: offered a multiple choice quiz on drug-impaired driving, provided substance abuse resources for people to get help, and most fondly, connected users to local transit, taxis, and ride sharing services near them.

Through its lifetime, Didi chatted with over 92,000 users, and helped 32,000 individuals find a ride. However, perhaps the most surprising fact of all is that the average time users spent with Didi was 2 minutes and 4 seconds. That’s a lot of time for this generation of information overload.

What’s next?

The Don’t Drive High message was delivered over 100 million times to Canadians from coast to coast. 73% of the target audience surveyed following the campaign recalled seeing, reading or hearing a Government of Canada drug-impaired driving advertisement.

“To us, if one life is saved through Didi and the Don’t Drive High campaign, that’s a win. That is a true sign of success, and we intend to keep going.”

But Kevin reminds me, “we can’t rest on our laurels and lose sight of the fact that true behavioural change takes a long time to successfully occur. We have achieved early success, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.” The team is dedicated to seeing this through to keep Canadians safe. “Being able to see firsthand the positive societal impact of something that you worked on is what I love about my job,” Kevin beams.

Statistics Canada says that every 3 hours someone gets into an accident related to drug-impaired driving. Kevin tells me, “to us, if one life is saved through Didi and the Don’t Drive High campaign, that’s a win. That is a true sign of success, and we intend to keep going.”

 

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