When Zero Doesn’t Work, Don’t Change Anything

You would think when something doesn’t work after 15 years of campaigning, one would jettison the campaign and seek better messaging. Not so Zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/). Once committed to a delusion with endless ‘sunk cost’, there is no moving the myth created or its symbolic power. This is the story of the Victorian TAC.

Yes, that’s right, the ones who gave us the ‘bloody idiot’ campaign (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfmHrHYMyT0). Not dissimilar to the Transport for NSW silly ‘What is an acceptable number campaign? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra5LK8x86zU ).

The Victorian road toll is now at its highest since 2008 (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-11-12/car-crash-near-mansfield-in-victorias-high-country/103095264?) and sadly nothing has changed with the messaging to the public. And what has been the most consistent message over that time? Yes, Zero!

Of course, zero messaging doesn’t work (https://safetyrisk.net/method-and-message-congruence-in-risk/). When your message is ‘zero is possible’, people switch off and the message creates nothing (https://www.tac.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/371451/Zero-Is-Possible-booklet-Edition-April-2019.pdf).

When we talk nonsense to people (https://safetyrisk.net/believe-the-impossible-and-speak-nonsense-to-people/), when we get sent nonsense goals (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-experts-in-speaking-nonsense-to-people/) and talk is ‘spin’ to people (https://safetyrisk.net/talking-zero-nonsense-to-people/), people are de-motivated, desensitized and numbed to unconscious messages coupled to safety. Especially, when others are blamed (https://www.tac.vic.gov.au/about-the-tac/media-room/news-and-events/2013-media-releases/tac-campaign-targets-bloody-idiots-who-drink-drive-this-september) and numerics are the focus.

If your prime focus is numerics and metrics, you will never connect with persons.

I find it mindlessly amusing when Safety trots out massive numbers (https://onepercentsafer.com/) to sell products and methods that don’t ‘work’. Indeed, most times there is no method but rather slogans. This is what Zero does. This is what the sponsors of zero do (https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/key-work-health-and-safety-statistics-australia-2022).

Zero asks people in safety to believe the impossible, then trots out numerics for all the times this has NOT been possible. We see this in the marketing and program for the approaching ‘zero event’ in Sydney that ‘believes the impossible’ so that safety will improve.

Of course, no one in safety believes it (https://safetyrisk.net/update-on-zero-survey-just-believe/). What this messaging does is: alienate, disconnect and desensitize people to the message. If you preach nonsense to people, the only outcome can be nonsense.

Unfortunately, many don’t understand unconscious messaging, most in marketing do and, advertisers, not Safety. When your semiotic is in conflict with messaging the outcome is never good (https://safetyrisk.net/method-and-message-congruence-in-risk/).

Once Safety made zero the global mantra in 2017, it embarked on a religious journey of irrelevance. This is why their latest video promoted by global safety is about apocalyptic miracles (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/). This is why zero is a delusion (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/). And, unfortunately, when so much sunk cost is involved, one can never get rid of it. The problem will always be somewhere else never with the message.

When we look at the failure of the messaging across the TAC, is there any thought of changing the messaging? In business, when messaging fails, most times people learn and change the messaging. Not safety. Once captured by an ideology and Archetype with sunk cost that is immortalised symbolically, it can never be moved without some kind of revolution. This is the power of Zero.




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