Impacts of major water safety campaigns: play it safe by the water 1997 to 2007

­1. Introduction

Play it Safe by the Water (PISBTW) is a multi-agency public awareness and education campaign which aims to implement a holistic water safety strategy for the state of Victoria. PISBTW combines general public awareness campaigns, targeted education programs and life saving service development using a collaborative approach between various water safety organisations, the community and state and local government. The PISBTW campaign has successfully delivered uniform messages through various water safety agencies and service providers under the single umbrella of the PISBTW brand. The coordination of the major water safety agencies in Victoria through the campaign has enabled agencies with at times competing goals to effectively work together to produce positive outcomes for drowning prevention.

The campaign commenced after the tragic and avoidable death of four children at Gunnamatta bought Victoria’s drowning rate to the forefront of the political arena. Since then the PISBTW campaign has made considerable progress in drowning prevention and water safety awareness.

The campaign has utilized key drowning and other statistics in addition to information ascertained from periodic evaluation of the campaign to provide direction for public awareness and education programs. This has allowed the campaign to target specific sections of the population through tailored messages and programs whilst linking back to the overarching messages of PISBTW.

2. Background

The PISBTW campaign is coordinated by Office of the Emergency Services (OESC) Commissioner at the Victorian Department of Justice (DOJ) and is delivered by the key water safety agencies Life Saving Victoria, Aquatics and Recreation Victoria, Surfing Victoria, Marine Safety Victoria and Swimming Victoria via a community partnership model. In 2003 the campaign moved from Sport and Recreation Victoria, Department of Victorian Communities to the OESC at the DOJ.

The PISBTW campaign has evolved over time. It has shifted from a purely public awareness orientated campaign to implementing programs and strategies that aim to influence behaviour in and around water. Bearing this in mind PISBTW has followed a similar trajectory to the Traffic Accident Commission’s road safety campaign. For example TAC slogans targeting speeding have moved from Speed Kills (awareness) to Wipe Off Five (change of behaviour).

The PISBTW campaign involves a number of different communication strategies including advertising (television, mobile billboards, radio), public relations and multilingual communication in sixteen languages. Throughout the year the water safety industry also works together to implement a number of programs and awareness campaigns. For example Water Safety Week which is conducted state wide in schools and aquatic facilities along with a Media Roadshow.

The campaign has a number of key slogans designed to encourage the behaviour of people in and around water. Some have consistently appeared as part of the campaign from the beginning such as

  • Play it Safe by the Water
  • Always swim between the flags at a beach patrolled by lifesavers
  • Never take you eyes off toddlers and small children
  • Check its OK to swim at inland water ways; and
  • Who’s looking out for you? (introduced in 2003-2004)

While the campaign’s primary focus is between the months of November to April, more recently, the campaign has been extended beyond the key summer period, in response to statistics indicating that almost two thirds of drowning deaths occur outside summer. As a result the Swim Safe Roos initiative was developed in partnership with the North Melbourne Football Club. As part of this partnership the slogan “Who’ll go missing from your team” was developed for a year round advertising campaign.

Over the course of the campaign, additional slogans and key messages have been designed and promoted, aimed at more specific target groups or behaviours. For example “Life Jackets Saves Lives” was specifically targeted at getting boaters to wear personal floatation devices. Research in the forms of campaign evaluation and drowning data has assisted with the identification of appropriate target audiences. In November 2004 a Water Safety Research Team was established, which was responsible for monitoring, evaluating and developing programs and research to further guide campaign development.

3. Methods

Data were collected on all unintentional drowning incidents across Victoria from 1997/1998 to 2006/2007 from the State Coroners Office Victoria and the National Coroners Information System. Information on the public awareness of and attitudes to water safety and related advertising was assessed pre- and post-campaign. This consisted of telephone surveys completed by a random sample of 500 Victorians on each occasion. The analysis conducted over the past three seasons has been conducted in a systematic consistent manner which has allowed to the campaign to accurately track particular themes and media through out the campaign.

4. Results

Drowning Data
Since the inception of the PISBTW campaign the unintentional drowning rate in Victoria has decreased from 1.38/100,000 in 1997/1998 to 0.74/100,000 in 2006/2007 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Rate of drowning deaths in Victoria from 1997/1998 to 2006/2007

Market Research
Survey results indicated a recall of advertising by up to 77% of respondents. Throughout the various campaigns awareness differed across demographic segments, in particular geographical variation, and to a lesser extent gender and age differences were found.

Over the past three campaign seasons the recall of PISBTW advertisements has been measured in a uniform manner allowing for comparison (Figure 2). Results illustrate seasonal variation with recall dropping off with the cessation of advertising in non-campaign months of May to October. As expected respondents demonstrated a higher rate of recall in the post -campaign analyses in comparison to pre-campaign analyses.

The campaign advertising that was directed towards the general population (Look Out) achieved the greatest recall while advertising directed towards specific target groups such as parents and carers of children (Watch out for toddlers) and male risk takers (Who’ll go missing from your team?) achieved lower levels of recall.

Figure 2. Percentage of market research respondents who recalled specific advertisements

Who’ll go missing from your team is specifically targeted at males aged 17-25. It was found that males and females had similar levels of recall of this advertising in the pre-campaign analysis (13% and 14% respectively) whereas males enjoyed a higher recall in the post campaign analysis. For example data from February 2007 demonstrates that recall in males was fifty percent higher than in females. On the other hand, there is no distinct, consistent trend when the data is broken down according to age.

The key messages respondents gained from each advertisement were also assessed. In general the advertisements have been effective in communicating their intended key messages. For example respondents to the market research analysis for the Who’ll go missing from your team advertisement consistently identified three key messages, never swim alone, keep an eye out for others when in and around water and take your mates in and around water. These three messages correspond with the intended messages of the advertisement. Likewise the main message taken away from Watch out for toddlers was watch out for toddlers.

5. Discussion

Over the past ten years the unintentional drowning rate has declined in Victoria. Evidence suggests that PISBTW has had a positive influence on reducing the drowning rate. The data collected by the market research pre and post-campaign analysis provides an indication of the effectiveness of the public awareness side of the campaign.

While initial recall of the general advertising campaigns was high Figure 2 illustrates that there has been a gradual decline the recall of the Watch out for toddlers and Look Out campaign, while the Who’ll go missing from your team has remained fairly consistent. The decline in recall suggests that a reassessment of the advertising campaign is needed. However, the increase in recall post campaign suggests that the advertisements are still having an effect on the population.

The PISBTW communications team has recently begun the process of re-evaluating the direction the advertising will take in the upcoming 2007/2008 campaign. This will include new/revamped advertisements to try and overcome any desensitization to current advertisements that may have occurred. Periodic and consistent evaluation assists and guides this process and helps define future directions of the campaign. The lower recall rates of Look out and Who’ll go missing from your team was expected as they are targeted at a specific section of the community and therefore smaller population.

6. Conclusions

Since the implementation of the PISBTW campaign several advancements have been made in the area of water safety awareness and drowning prevention. This has manifested in a number ways, most prominently a significant decline in the drowning rate. Monitoring and evaluation of the campaign and the effective analysis of drowning data has allowed the campaign to evolve over the ten year period and implement specific targeted campaigns where appropriate.

The coordinated multi agency approach has been extremely successful in delivering a holistic approach to water safety. From the very beginning of the campaign, partnerships have been established and grown between the water safety agencies. These partnerships have occurred both at the state and local level ensuring water safety messages are delivered in a cooperative manner.

7. Take Home Messages

  1. There are considerable benefits from providing consistent messages and branding. With the introduction of a single water safety key message PISBTW has become a well known and recognised brand and as such has assisted many of the water safety agencies to use it as an umbrella message to support direct targeted messages but at the same time always linking back to a holistic state water safety message.
  2. The PISBTW campaign has enabled the water safety industry to develop a greater understanding of how drowning data analyses can link with and provide direct outcomes for public awareness/ education programs. Through this method Life Saving Victoria and its partners have developed a number of key water safety initiatives to tackle water safety in a number of non-traditional methods.
  3. Multiple agencies with at times different objectives and messages can work together to successfully effect change via a collaborative holistic approach.