The success of a mobile app that rewards drivers for safer driving rather than shocking them into behaving properly through hard-hitting ad campaigns, shows that tech platforms which help consumers do something positive can help change behaviour.
That is according to Eve Conboy, a director and head of creative technology with advertising content agency Radical, which recently created the "Face it Down" app for Toyota Ireland.
The app, which has been downloaded by more than 13,500 drivers in just over a week, rewards those who ignore their phones while driving by giving them points that can be redeemed for complimentary drinks at Topaz outlets nationwide.
Users of the app, which is supported by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), simply launch it before setting off on a journey and earn points for every kilometre driven without picking up their phone. Those who can drive for 350km without giving into temptation get a free drink.
So far, mobile users have driven over 660,000km while using the app.
The move comes as recent research conducted by the RSA shows drivers making a call are four times more likely to crash. Texting while behind the wheel makes an accident 23 times more likely.
According to secondary research from the University of Beijing, which was published last year, people use their phones while driving if they believe that compensatory behaviour – such as slowing down or not changing lanes – will compensate for it.
Ms Conboy said rather than try to “punish” mobile phone owners by reminding them of negative behaviour, there was a need to counteract compensatory beliefs, and deliver social proof within the app by reminding users of the statistics around mobile phone use and road collisions.
“We could have gone with videos and more traditional advertising messages about the dangers of mobile phone use while driving. But we knew from looking at other case studies in the area of road safety that just serving people the negative statistics and reminders wouldn’t be enough to really change behaviour and actually do something to practically solve the problem,” said Ms Conboy.
She said the agency took prompts for the design of the app from the work of BJ Food, a leader in the study of using technology to reinforce behaviour change.
“We focused on designing an app that was simple to use; just put the phone down and don’t look at it, and we reward consistency by not only rewarding a single unbroken journey, but also giving bonus points for unbroken series of journeys – users who make five, 10, 50 and 100 journeys successfully without ever having a failed journey, will be rewarded with extra bonus points. This aspect of the design was important to encourage repeat use, and try to encourage users to stick to a habit and therefore change behaviour,” she said.
Ms Conboy said she thought mobile phone owners were particularly responsive to apps that reinforce positive behaviour because their devices are “constant companions”.
She dismissed concerns that data collected by the app could be used to report individual driver behaviour to the authorities, saying that any information gathered cannot be shared and is anonymised.
The Toyota app is by no means the first of its kind to reward good behaviour.
Vitality Insurance in the UK recently began rewarding customers with cheaper health insurance premiums for positive health and wellbeing behaviour changes recorded on apps. In addition, insurer Aviva’s Drive app offers premium discounts for safe drivers.
Ms Conboy said she believed more brands working in the mobile space would begin developing products and platforms that help people do something positive in their day-to-day lives or in the wider community.