More people are using today’s roads – on two and four wheels – all vying for the same space, leading to tension and accidents. Ford created WheelSwap, an immersive empathy experience, to help make roads safer, taking it to five countries to determine its impact.

We asked Gina MacCarthy, Head of Brand Comms for Ford, a few questions about WheelSwap…

What makes the WheelSwap work stand out?
What sets WheelSwap apart is two things: the simplicity of the idea – based on a clear audience truth – and its proven impact. Many ‘traditional’ awareness campaigns often fall short due to the lack of tangible, measurable impact. Both the team and client recognized early on that the power of this idea would be in its results – 60% behavior change among those who tried it is phenomenal.

What about WheelSwap makes you the most proud?
Aside from driving tangible behavior change that can help make roads safer, we’re extremely proud of the collaborative effort that resulted in WheelSwap. We were working in close partnership with our Ford clients, the H+K Smarter team of behavioral scientists, our production partners Happy Finish and of course our fellow WPP partners across key markets – all of whom have massively contributed to the genesis and results of the project.

What’s one thing from this work that you’ll carry with you?
WheelSwap is a prime example of allowing a project to gestate and prove over time. Planned well in advance and executed in a collaborative way meant the project had room to breathe and evolve. The end result is not far from the original idea proposed but it certainly had a few twists and turns – without which, we would never have achieved the impact statements that became the cornerstone of our campaign messaging.

What exactly does Ford aim to do?
WheelSwap was the cornerstone of Ford’s Share The Road campaign. The aim was simple: help foster harmony and understanding between cyclists and motorists in a way that would drive tangible behavioral change. In short, we wanted to help make roads safer for all.

What was the issue Ford was tackling?
With increasing numbers of cyclists and motorists on our roads, there are more road users all vying for the same, finite space. Tensions are high and accidents all too frequent. Ford of Europe, with its ability to reach millions of road users, wanted to change this. In the UK alone, cyclists account for 1 in 12 road fatalities. This needs to change. Ford believes that all road users have the right to travel from A toB freely, confidently and safely. Share The Road set out to be more than ‘just another awareness campaign.’ Ford wanted to find ways to change behavior to help make roads safer.

Any research or insights used to carry out work with Ford? If so, what resources did you use?
This campaign was based on key insights from a number of focus groups. We spoke to cyclists, motorists and those who do both – to identify exactly what the issues are and how Ford could have a role in helping solve them. What became quickly evident from all groups was a lack of empathy and understanding of each other’s needs and experiences. And that’s how WheelSwap was born.

What was the depth and breadth of the work – sectors and services employed, if multiple?
The work started with Ford of Europe’s Blended PR team, of which H+K are the major component. It stretched to H+K’s Smarter and Studio teams but was only made possible in close collaboration with a mix of WPP teams – comprising Ogilvy, BCW and H+K in our key markets. And, not forgetting Happy Finish, H+K’s production partners who turned WheelSwap into a (virtual) reality.

What has the client team done really well?
In our industry it can be rare to meet a client who is willing to take risks or move into territory that makes the wider business uncomfortable. We are extremely lucky that our client recognized that taking a stance on a provocative topic was a bold but necessary step – and also to believe in an idea so completely that investing in an experiment to prove its efficacy was a no-brainer. It took a great leap of faith to invest in Share The Road and, particularly, in WheelSwap, but our client team presented an original idea grounded in strong rationale and solid behavioral science insight; the level of faith our client showed in the team and this idea was down to the solid thinking demonstrated in its planning.

Watch Ford “WheelSwap”