2019 Winner: South Dakota Office of Highway Safety

Peter K. ORourke Special Achievement Awards
Grim Reaper

The South Dakota Office of Highway Safety’s “Jim Reaper” campaign is a marketing strategy designed to keep drivers safe by reminding them that death is always waiting for them to slip up.

In South Dakota and across the country, many of the audiences for seat belt safety, drunk driving, distracted driving and motorcycle safety tend to be the same young demographic who feel invincible and aren’t fazed by traditional scare tactics. Knowing this, the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety took a different approach, launching the “Jim Reaper” campaign last year to reach these drivers with a memorable, unified message that will stay relevant and change behavior.

Jim Reaper is the face of death, a threat that’s always watching and waiting for you to make a mistake. The campaign inserts a Grim Reaper character into the lives of everyday people as a reminder that, by making smart decisions like wearing a seat belt, calling a cab or opting to wear a helmet, people can beat death, not just cheat it.

The campaign also taps into issues of national concern including the rise of distracted driving and a marketing landscape that continues to grow cluttered and require more standout messaging tactics.

Through nontraditional tactics to disrupt drivers’ daily routines and get them to pay attention and change behavior, South Dakota has seen a 3% decrease in year-over-year crash fatalities from 2017-2018 and a 20% decrease over the last five years. In 2019, the state is on track for an additional reduction in fatalities.