Nudge: A new communications tactic
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Nudge: A new communications tactic

By Janine Lazarus

Set aside, if you can, your grievances around the much-maligned e-toll system, and the indisputable fact that the first month of its roll-out in Gauteng hasn’t done much for public buy-in.

Suspend your misgivings for a brief moment on the onerous payment methods for non-registered or ‘alternate’ road users, the infuriatingly outdated data in possession of the SA National Roads Agency (SANRAL), and the resultant conglomeration of mortifying glitches the collection system has experienced.

Try to shelve your cynicism – albeit momentarily - that the initiative’s opening salvo has done little more than provide motorists with more ammunition to challenge the system.

This was my task when I was invited this Sunday as a guest on seasoned radio anchor Ashraf Garda’s media and marketing programme, media@safm. The topic was crystal clear: Has SANRAL’s communications strategy on e-tolling worked or not?

With both guns blazing, I tore into the incessant telephonic harassment of road users since e-tolling went live on 3 December, the unsolicited advertising campaign, and the fact that too much had already gone wrong with e-tolling for it to actually succeed.

Going for the jugular. I furiously spat at the Agency’s “big stick” approach, its threats that offending motorists pay up or face criminal prosecution, and its entirely non-transparent billing procedures.

To my mind, intimidating road users who drive under a gantry while using questionable extortion tactics to get them to sign up and pay up is exactly what NOT to do.  Messaging 101: Bullying society just doesn’t work. It backfires badly and gives rise to a heightened rebellious chorus of resistance.

All SANRAL will get for telling people to pay for tolls they didn’t want in the first place - without showing them how these costs were incurred - and spending millions of taxpayers’ rands on a floundering media campaign, is the middle finger.

And on and on I blustered, as I might add, did most callers who also called SANRAL’s coercive communication methodology into question. The gist of it was that there were many questions and still too few answers.

People who called in asked to be properly informed in simple, non-intimidating language. They wanted more detail so that they could develop a better understanding of how the freeway system works and where they hard-earned money will actually be going to.

There are very few filters in talk radio. Listeners who call in tend to shoot straight – more so because they have little time to get their views across.

But there was one caller from Pretoria who made me stop in my tracks. He said that we didn’t live in a dictatorship, and nor did we, as he neatly put it, “need things to be done by decree.” A persuasive communications strategy, he said, was to “nudge” – not to beat people up.

So I stopped blustering and I began listening. And then I went home and looked up the word nudge in my Oxford Paperback Thesaurus boasting over 300 000 synonyms. Nudge, I learned, means to ‘poke, jab, prod, dig, jog, dig in the ribs, elbow, bump, touch, push, shove.’

So, that is my new mantra for 2014. Less of the stomping gumboot and more of the nudge. Let’s see how long I can last.

Janine Lazarus Media Consultancy
(W) 011 454 2499
(C) 083 287 1951
(F) 086 509 8392

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