The Rail Ritual: A superstition that could actually save your life

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AUCKLAND, Today: From widely adopted behaviours like crossing fingers, to individual examples like Rafael Nadal’s elaborate pre-serving ritual, superstitions are powerful levers on human behaviour. In fact, studies show 90% of people indulge in some form of superstition and yet no one knows where they come from.

KiwiRail, TrackSAFE and DDB Group Aotearoa harnessed the power of superstition to encourage safer behaviour around level crossings in an integrated campaign for Rail Safety Week (8-14 August).

The number of incidents involving trains doubled over the past year, prompting this creative new approach to engage with the public on rail safety.

Rather than simply telling people to expect trains, or warning about the dangers of making poor decisions, the Rail Safety Week campaign attempted something new to get people looking left and right at level crossings – promoting a superstition that stated that before crossing rail tracks, one should briefly ‘Blow to the left and to the right, for safe travels’.

But before TrackSAFE and KiwiRail could promote such a thing, DDB Group and Mango Aotearoa worked together to establish a back story – leveraging media, digital, outdoor, social media and influencer partnerships.

This began – completely unbranded – in all of the places you’d expect to find evidence of a rail superstition, such as Reddit forums, train blogs, travel blogs, and Wikipedia.

“The traditional Look left, look right message wasn’t turning heads and KiwiRail and the TrackSAFE team were willing to try something unconventional if it meant saving lives”

Next, influencers and media personalities were engaged to spread the word by creating content about their own superstitious behaviours – including the blow left and right behaviour – as part of their content in the lead up to Rail Safety Week.

Finally, KiwiRail and TrackSAFE joined the conversation and promoted this new behaviour across all of their channels during Rail Safety Week.

DDB Aotearoa chief creative officer Gary Steele says the unique campaign was designed to get people to think differently about safety.

“The traditional ‘Look left, look right’ message wasn’t turning heads and KiwiRail and the TrackSAFE team were willing to try something unconventional if it meant saving lives,” he says.

“The Rail Ritual campaign is a playful way to get a serious message across, promoting a new superstition that instils safe behaviour. While most superstitions don’t actually deliver real benefits, this one might just save lives.”

TrackSAFE NZ Foundation manager Megan Drayton said people needed to take more care around railway lines and this year’s campaign was a new way to get the message across.

“It was definitely unconventional but we needed to do something different to grab people’s attention,” she says. “We wanted people to engage with rail safety in a new way, and harnessing the power of superstition has done just that.

“Whether people are superstitious or not, the campaign has got people thinking about the risks, and what they need to do to stay safe.”


Client: Kiwirail, TrackSAFE
Acting GGM Communications Kiwirail: Nigel Wilson
Community Engagement Manager Kiwirail: Jane Sherriff
Community Engagement Advisor Kiwirail: Emma Kenton-Todd
Foundation Manager TrackSAFE: Megan Drayton

Agency: DDB Aotearoa
Group Chief Creative Officer: Matty Burton
Chief Creative Officer: Gary Steele
Creative Director: Brett Colliver and Mike Felix
Senior Art Director: Sarsha Drakeford
Senior Copywriter: Lizzie Baird
Illustrator: Timothy Wilde
Business Partner: Lucy Paykel
Senior Account Manager: Bambi Villacruz
Head of Digital and Social (Mango): Zoe Virtue
Senior Account Manager (Mango): Emma Hopgood
Planner: Natassja Cox
Agency Producer: Sheetal Pradhan and Julz Lane

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