Case Study Series - ‘Pinkie’: Challenging Masculine Social Norms on NSW Roads (Transport for NSW)

9 August 2013Behavioural Insights Unit

Categorycase study

Tagsbehavioural insights, nsw

The objective was to change the attitudes and behaviours of all speeding drivers, in particular young males, to increase road safety.


Issue: The vast majority of deaths on NSW roads are from speeding accidents caused by young men.

Campaign: The ‘Pinkie’ advertising campaign was designed around a risqué message of a female holding up her little finger, stating ‘Speeding. No one thinks big of you’.

Behaviour: The advertisement was designed to reframe perceived social norms around speeding – inverting the notion of speeding as an expression of masculinity.

Outcome:  In the year following the campaign, deaths in this category fell by 46%.

The Policy Issues

Speeding is the biggest contributor to the annual NSW road toll, accounting for around 40% of deaths.[1]

  • From 2004 to 2008, 874 people died on NSW roads in speed-related crashes. A staggering 85% of drivers involved in fatal speeding crashes were males.[2]
  • Between 2002 and 2006, 17-24 year old men accounted for just 14% of all licence holders, yet they represented 34% of all fatalities.[2]
  • In 2006, p-platers held only 7% of licences but accounted for one third of speeding infringements above 30km/h, and 41% of speeding infringements above 45km/h.[3]

The Policy Objective was to change the attitudes and behaviours of all speeding drivers, in particular young males, to increase road safety. A campaign was launched in June 2007 to heighten awareness of the issue of speeding, positioning it as socially unacceptable behaviour, with the ultimate aim of reducing incidents of speeding. 

Research and Behavioural Analysis to Inform the Campaign

Using behavioural insights (BI), the ‘Pinkie’ campaign aimed to understand speeding behaviour in order to uncover new insights and opportunities for the most effective ways to instigate change. In preparation for the campaign, the RTA undertook research and fieldwork with a primary focus of understanding speeding behaviour. Researchers went on car journeys with young drivers to observe how they drove. Importantly they also insisted on travelling in context – with young drivers and their mates in the car together– to observe the effects of peer pressure and group behaviour.

The campaign had been triggered by an RTA education program called 'Mockingbirds'. This program employed young women (who were aspirational to young men), who mocked them about their fascination with cars and speeding. The qualitative research done at the time showed that tapping into this behaviour showed enormous potential to not only shift attitudes, but behaviour as well.

The research found that: 

  1. Earlier campaigns using salient imagery of crashes had not made young drivers feel a crash was likely to happen to them. “Speeding kills. We all know that. But it hasn’t happened to me yet so why would I stop?” 
    Looking at these beliefs through a behavioural insight lens, young drivers had no availability bias, which is a cognitive bias where we tend to believe what is vivid or easy to recall, and judge the probability of it occurring on this basis.
  2. Young male drivers tend to be optimistic and overconfident about their driving skills, causing them to adopt more reckless behaviour.
  3. The researchers identified a misperception of social norms– theyfound that young male drivers often believed that everyone else thought speeding was ‘cool’ and was a mark of reputation and image. “You do it [speed] ‘cos you want to show you’re the best…you wouldn’t red-line it on every gear change, or take a corner at 40 if there was no-one in the car with you, because then there’s no point.”

The social dimension was reinforced by crash statistics showing that young male drivers were more likely to crash if they had one or two passengers.

The Campaign

The campaign was designed to work by reframing perceived social norms around speeding. The campaign highlighted what others really think of the speeding driver – that his speeding is a reflection of his insecurity with his masculinity.

The campaign deployed five elements of MINDSPACE to powerful effect. The primary elementswere NORMS and AFFECT and the secondary elements were EGO, MESSENGER and SALIENCE.

NORMS: The campaign sought to change the belief among young drivers that speeding is cool. It highlighted the real injunctive social norms of what society really thought of them – “No one thinks big of you”.

By insinuating that speeding was, in fact, considered a bit of a pathetic act by all societal groups, including their peers and contemporaries – girls, older members of society and even their friends - the campaign helped to change behaviour.

AFFECT: Emotional associations can powerfully shape our behaviour. The campaign, through the use of the ‘pinkie’ device, tapped into a humorous emotional response, one that young men did not want to be labelled by. Speeding was counter-intuitively reframed from a source of excitement to a source of embarrassment.

EGO: We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves. By challenging young drivers’ perceptions of the social norm through the use of the ‘pinkie’ device and the line “No one thinks big of you”, the campaign sought to change the way young men felt about themselves when they sped, ultimately changing behaviour to safer, slower driving.

MESSENGER: Who the message comes from can have a profound effect on behaviour. The campaign gave prominence to the opinions of two groups that young men most want to impress: mates and girls.

SALIENCE: The campaign was unafraid to use a risqué, but colloquial truth to draw greater attention to the injunctive social norm it was introducing – that “no one thinks big” of speeding drivers.

Watch a video of the campaign. 

Outcomes and Results

The principal campaign outcomes were:

  • P-plater behaviour changed. In the year following the campaign, P-plater deaths fell by 46%, as did crashes and high-risk speeding infringements. There were 22 fewer P-plate deaths in 2007 compared to 2006.[4]
  • The number of 17-25 year-old males killed in speeding crashes dropped from 64 in 2006 to 35 in 2007. The toll remained significantly lower than pre-campaign levels, with just 37 young deaths in 2008.[5]
  • Road fatalities fell by 10% in 2007 compared to 2006. There were 58 fewer speed related deaths.[5]

There is even some anecdotal evidence of the campaign entering culture and that members of the public have adopted showing the pinkie sign to speeding drivers. For example:

“I’ve done it [the Pinkie gesture] in my neighbourhood with a guy that drives a hotted up car and he slows down now.”

Female, 22, Western Sydney, May 2008[6]
  1. NSW RTA: ‘Road Traffic Crashes in NSW – December 2008’
  2. NSW RTA: ‘Pinkie’ Campaign data.
  3. NSW RTA: ‘Road Traffic Crashes in NSW – December 2006’
  4. The Sydney Morning Herald 1 January 2008 “Safest year on record since WWII” J, Gibson.
  5. NSW RTA – ‘Road Traffic Crashes in NSW – December 2008’.
  6. Clemenger BBDO Effies 2009 report.

This case study is part of a series of behavioural insights (BI) case studies compiled by the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). While DPC is working with the UK Cabinet Office to push forward the use of BI in NSW, these case studies show how the NSW Government has already successfully applied BI techniques in a number of programs.