Find out how Street Smart’s new campaign, “shattered lives” was born


Every fall as the days get shorter, the TPB’s bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign, Street Smart, kicks off a period of ad campaigns and increased enforcement. This year, the program is launching new creative content for its messaging campaign. Here’s a peek behind the curtain to see how this new campaign came to be.

About Street Smart

But first, a little background on the Street Smart campaign. You’re likely familiar with the “tired faces” campaign that debuted in 2013. Street Smart focuses on education and enforcement, two of the three “e’s” of pedestrian safety—the third is engineering or designing safer streets.

The fall campaign is designed to remind drivers, bicyclists, and walkers that the shorter daylight hours decrease visibility on the streets. Less light also typically leads to an increase in crashes. The campaign seeks to keep everyone aware of how to be safe on the streets. The ads are coupled with periods of increased law enforcement in targeted areas around the region to remind road users to follow the rules and be safe.

The Street Smart ad campaign is using new ad copy to depict, “shattered lives.” (Street Smart)

A complex campaign for a big region

Unlike a campaign with one message targeting one group—think of the “Click it or ticket” campaign—Street Smart needs a campaign with many messages aimed at many different groups. It must address multiple behaviors and situations to pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists. That complexity makes it more challenging to devise the right messages aimed at the right people.

Also, the Street Smart campaign was designed to serve the whole region. Since the region shares one media market, it makes sense to devise a single ad campaign that every jurisdiction can use. Each individual agency saves by sharing one campaign. And as a bonus everyone in the region can recognize and remember the campaign. The “tired faces” campaign worked well since it could be simply modified by jurisdictions, schools, or other institutions to focus on the populations they serve like older adults or teens.

The “tired faces” campaign that ran from 2013-2017 was easily modified by jurisdictions, schools, and other institutions. (TPB)

To guide these considerations, Street Smart has an advisory group consisting of pedestrian and bicycle safety officials from TPB member jurisdictions. The advisory group helps to frame the messages it wants to convey and provides guidance to the program.

How “shattered lives” was born

In the fall of 2016, the advisory group decided it was time to retire the “tired faces.” The campaign had run for five years and while it was successful and recognizable, all ad campaigns eventually lose their ability to attract attention due to over-exposure and over-familiarity. People simply stop paying attention to them. The group decided it was time for something new.

Starting in December the advisory group began discussing ideas with the advertising consultant. They discussed the kinds of behaviors they wanted to address and the types of situations they thought were important to highlight.

Next, the consultant put together some creative ideas to convey the messages. These included eye-catching images of zoo animals or mascots about to run into people in crosswalks. Others showed people made of glass crossing the street or riding bikes.

Early drafts of the “shattered lives” campaign used glass people to convey fragility but the focus groups suggested that those glass people didn’t convey real people. (Street Smart)

After working with the members of the advisory group and narrowing down those ideas, the next step was to test how well people would respond to them. The consultant ran four focus groups, three in Gaithersburg and one in the District of Columbia to gather reactions from different kinds of road users who would be the focus of the campaign. The focus group in the District of Columbia represented more people who bike, walk, and use transit, while those in Gaithersburg included more drivers and people who have to navigate suburban streets, as well as a Spanish-speaking group.

Focus groups helped test different messages and images to help narrow down the most effective content. (Street Smart)

The focus groups provided feedback about how well people could remember the ads and if they conveyed the right information. For example, one test ad showed mascots in the crosswalk with the tagline, “You never know who you’ll run into in the crosswalk.” This message confused people. They didn’t realize that the message was about safety, they wondered who they might meet in the crosswalk.

After the focus groups helped narrow down the choices, the advisory group met again to work toward a consensus on the campaign. The first version of “shattered lives” used images of people made of glass. The advisory group, and the focus groups, suggested that those glass or transparent people didn’t convey real people. Finally, they landed on a campaign that used real people behind shattered glass.

Once all the ideas were tested the final creative content shows real people behind shattered glass. (Street Smart)

Not only does the new campaign convey the fragility of people’s lives but similar to the tired faces, it will be something that TPB member jurisdictions will be able to tailor to their own communities.

The first of these ads were unveiled at the fall kickoff event in the City of Fairfax at the Old Town Square. The ad campaign is once again coupled with an increase in police enforcement across the region. These enforcement campaigns ticket drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians who break the laws. The campaign also provides tips for all road users about how to stay safe as the days get shorter and darker.

MORE: News Release: Darker months lead to spike in traffic crashes involving pedestrians

Learn more about the Street Smart program at

Cover photo of the Street Smart street teams at the Fall 2017 Kickoff event.

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