21 Aug 2013

AT&T launches anti-texting documentary

Over 100,000 accidents in the US per year involve drivers who are texting and, according to a new documentary, this number is climbing sharply.

“From One Second to the Next” is a confronting online film with a simple but powerful message: Don’t text and drive.

Created by legendary director Werner Herzog, the documentary examines the consequences of texting and driving from the perspectives of the victims, the perpetrators and others affected by the activity.

The 35-minute film has been described as devastating, confronting, heartbreaking, sobering, gripping, complex and compassionate and has attracted close to 2 million views. 

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements to the piece is the company behind it: AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the United States and one of the largest in the world.

“From One Second to the Next” is part of a major multi-million advertising campaign “It Can Wait”, which has been spearheaded by AT&T and other leading US telcos T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

The campaign aim is to create awareness of the dangers of text messaging while driving and promote the initiative against texting and driving.

AT&T hired Herzog to shoot a series of 30-second ads for the campaign, the documentary builds on the ads to tell the full stories of some of the people and events featured in the ads.

Herzog told AP: “I knew I could do it because it has to do with catastrophic events invading a family. In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever. That kind of emotional resonance is something that I knew I could cover.”

"What AT&T proposed immediately clicked and connected inside of me. There's a completely new culture out there. I'm not a participant of texting and driving — or texting at all — but I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."

“We have no idea what kind impact it will have," Herzog said, "But if it prevents one single accident from happening, I have done my job well. Everything is good then.”

The It Can Wait campaign is predominantly targeting teenagers, 75% of which say texting and driving is common in their group of friends. 

The TV ads are supported by an online and social media campaign, which encourages people to “Take the pledge to never text and drive” as well as inviting people to view videos, share their own stories and get involved in the movement.

The campaign site features all Herzog’s ads as well as the documentary, trailers, and videos of celebrities taking the pledge. The documentary will be available online and will also be screened in 40,000 high schools across the US.

Michelle Kuckelman, AT&T Executive Director of Integrated Brand Marketing, told Fast Company: "You’re taking something that is literally transforming the way we communicate. You’re always connected, every second. You don’t really know how to stop. While we’re trying to solve that from technology perspective, [Herzog] wanted to hit it head-on from a social perspective.”


“From One Second to the Next” is a staggering example of how powerful branded entertainment can be. 

Moving and emotional, this documentary has a clear objective to stop people from texting while driving.  It is that simple. Herzog pulls no punches in sharing the pain and suffering that is wrought by the activity. 

This campaign is leveled directly at teenagers and Gen Y’s obsession with their mobile phones. The victims stories are devastating but it is the guilt soaked perspective shared by the perpetrators that takes this film to a different level.  

This film is not an emotion soaked tale of victims, this is a wake up call to perpetrators: this is a fate you do not want to live with. This is exactly the right tactic  to get through to a teenage audience whose every movement is based entirely on selfish motivations. 

As AdWeek points out: “a key part of what makes the documentary so effective is that it’s not just playing to the pity, or morality, of the audience. On some level, it's appealing to selfishness. The victims may be relatable, but so are the drivers—they’re just regular guys, like you—the film actually is appealing to the viewer's ego. Hitting someone won’t just ruin their lives and the lives of their loved ones. It will ruin yours.” 

Herzog does not hold back on this, the film basically says if you text and drive this will happen to you, consider yourselves warned. 

There’s a secondary strategy at play here: AT&T have developed an app and an entire education platform underneath this campaign to drive the initiative 

What fascinates me about this documentary is that essentially it is a campaign by the US biggest telco along with its major competitors urging its customers not to use its products. It’s unheard of.  

It’s a brave and bold move from AT&T and co. People have become accustomed to big corporations and brands shirking responsibility for the impact their products have on society, let alone individuals. 

As AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said: “Every CEO in the industry that you talk to recognizes that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with. I think we all understand that pooling our resources with one consistent message is a lot more powerful than all four of us having different messages and going different directions."

So here we see the biggest telcos stepping up to the plate to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. It’s a sign of the times we live in, that these companies have taken such a pro-active approach to attempt to stem the growing trend to text and drive.  

It was this very sentiment that got director Werner Herzog on board with the project. Herzog has previously been critical of the presence of brands and marketing in creative mediums, however he told AP this point was irrelevant as the film is “not trying to sell you anything”.

"This has nothing to do with consumerism or being part of advertising products. This whole campaign is rather dissuading you from excessive use of a product. It's a campaign. We're not trying to sell anything to you. We're not trying to sell a mobile phone to you. We're trying to raise awareness."

The message that comes through loud and clear in this film is the futility and pointlessness of so many of the text messages that are sent. The campaign plays up the “on my way”, “where u at” and “yeah” messages that were so important they cost lives. 

Ultimately the message from this film is stop using your phones for such trivial things. It’s a sentiment that goes directly against the sort of marketing that has become commonplace in the mobile phone and telco advertising that saturates the media every day. 

This notion of being constantly connected and having a flexible mobile plan that lets you send even the most trivial message, is the centrepiece of many Australian phone providers marketing. 

So while they would agree with the Don’t Text and Drive notion, it’s hard to imagine them joining forces to support a campaign, which acknowledges the dangers of using its product. I might be wrong and this might be unfair but I just cannot see their regimented PR and legal departments being ok with this. 

The entire campaign effectively rewrites the rulebooks for branded entertainment. With this activity the telcos not only accept responsibility for the impact text messaging while driving is having but they also throw millions at educating consumers. 

AT&T have also built an entire platform underneath the ‘It Can Wait’ movement, and have created a number of technological tools and apps to support the cause. 

Among these is the AT&T driver education programs to show how distracting texting while driving is. They’ve also created apps for parents of young drivers which enables them to monitor the driving, check on the car and switch off texts and calls. There’s also an app to switch your phone onto driving mode, which when activated sends an automated response advising people that you’re driving and will respond when you reach your destination.  

Every aspect of this campaign has consumers and their families best issues at heart, but in doing so AT&T have also created a legitimate and meaningful way to maintain a dialogue with consumers on an ongoing level. 

Not that this should take anything away from what they are doing, but their investment and leadership status with this campaign is certain to reflect positively on the brand. 


A staggering achievement and a brilliant piece of branded entertainment. I give it 5 stars. 

  • Brand: AT&T 
  • Creative company: BBDO New York




17 Dec 2014

Hi there! This article could not be wreittn muchbetter! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!He always kept preaching about this. I'll forward this article to him. Pretty sure he's going to havea good read. Thanks for sharing!
John Ford

16 Sep 2014

I am a perpetrator of looking at email, Instagram and occasionally texting while driving. No more.
The storytelling artistry of Herzog combined with a naturally gripping and guilt-laden topic makes this a powerful and important piece of communication. For all ages. The fact that the big US telcos united to do something about the issue in such a genuine and confronting manner speaks volumes, at every level. It's hard to be cynical. It certainly makes me wake up. 5 Stars.
Emily Bull

16 Sep 2014

I agree John! My phone now stays firmly in my handbag whilst driving. Such a moving piece.
I thought the length of the film is also worth mentioning, it's easily segmented into sections or watched in it's full 30min length (which I did) . The length actually strengthens the engagement and drives the emotional connections up. Love it. Brave. Bold. 5 Stars.
Jeremy Garling

16 Sep 2014

What I love about this campaign is the emotion it draws, moving away from the shock and awe style of many road warning ads (which we are now immune to)...but then shows you how AT&T are developing methods to stop the issue. It is not just a 'your problem' / 'be warned' campaign, but 'let's work together' one.

Imagine if they did this with guns!!!

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