Dec. 8, 2010 -- If speed limit signs aren't enough to slow down lead-footed drivers, what about the promise of cold, hard cash?
The motivation of a cash prize to the safest drivers is behind a California man's winning entry in The Fun Theory, an advertising contest sponsored by Volkswagen and advertising network DDB Worldwide Communications.
The idea? Put a speed monitor on a busy highway. But instead of simply ticketing the fastest drivers, the monitor would capture an image of the license plates of the drivers who obey the speed limit, then enter them into a lottery.
The winner of the lottery would get a cash prize, paid for with some of the money collected from drivers who were ticketed for going too fast.
"I thought, 'Is there anything you could do to slow people down and change their behavior through fun?'" said Kevin Richardson, the 40-something San Francisco man behind the winning Fun Theory idea.
Click here to watch Kevin Richardson's winning idea for The Fun Theory contest in action.
Richardson, a senior games producer for NickelodeonKids and Family Games, said he learned of the contest after Googling The Fun Theory when a video of one of its other contest entries made the rounds at his office.
He said he immediately thought of traffic safety, being the father of three girls and having witnessed two car accidents involving children on bicycles.
So he brainstormed and came up with a way to reward a driver's good behavior rather than sticking with the old system of only punishing the bad.
"You shouldn't be dumping heaps of negative attention on a few bad apples," he said, likening his thought process to good management at a corporation. "You acknowledge all the people that are doing well."
Jeff Swystun, chief communications officer for the New York City-based DDB, said Richardson "embodies what the Fun Theory was all about," calling him "clever" and "earnest."
Richardson's entry, he said, was simple, but it was bold and "has impact for basically every country."
"I think that was a benefit -- this was relatable everywhere," he said.
For winning the contest, Richardson was awarded 2,500 Euros, or about $3,300.
Speed Lottery Idea Slows Test Drivers by 22 Percent
Volkswagen and DDB's Sweden offices, which were promoted the project, put out a video showing exactly how effective Richardson's brainchild could be.
The speed monitor was set up in Stockholm for three days in September and recorded 24,857 cars as they drove by. The average speed at the beginning of the project was 32 km/h, or about 19.8 mph. By the end, cars drove by with an average speed of 25 km/h, or about 15.5 mph -- a 22 percent decrease.
"This is a really positive thing: Drive legally and earn money," one driver marveled in Swedish. "Perfect!"
The contest was tied to Volkswagen's promotion of its new Blue Motion Technologies -- which puts more environmentally friendly features in the fleet's inner workings to improve on things like fuel efficiency.
Swystun said his company, which has a longstanding relationship with the car maker, was contacted about advertising for the new technology, but wanted to avoid running traditional promotions that could blend in with similar ads promoting Earth-friendly products.
"We could have done that standard, 'Oh, we suggest a series of 30-second television ads and we're going to go talk about how green and wonderful Volkswagen is,'" he said. "Our concern is everybody is doing that."
The Fun Theory, he said, was developed as a way to get consumers not just interested, but engaged and thinking about how being responsible could be fun.
The contest was promoted on YouTube and social media networks earlier this year. Launched primarily in Sweden, it spread to Europe and the United States, then beyond.
Swystun said it ended up getting thousand of entries from across the world.
"They came in [from] absolutely everywhere and they were some very neat ideas," he said.
Other Finalists Included Piano Stairs, Arcade Recycling
Finalists included the idea of turning a set of stairs into a functioning piano to see if people would exert the extra energy to take the music-making stairs versus the nearby escalator. They also included a proposal to turn a bottle recycling center into an arcade-like game.
Swystun said DDB is continuing conversations with Volkswagen to determine how much father they can take The Fun Theory.
Speaking personally, Swystun said he "would love to see a continuation of the campaign because I think it has application in everyday life."
Richardson said he understands his project isn't going to revolutionize life on the road, but hopes at least some will take away his message.
"Of course people are still going to speed. But if it makes more people slow down and there's a positive reason to do it, it's better than always looking out of the corner of your eye and wondering if you're going to get caught," he said. "Focus more on the positive and what results you want, and not the negative."