The costs, both monetary and psychological, associated with the injuries and deaths caused by motor vehicle collisions (MVC) are quite high across the world and as a recent call from the World Health Organization argues, very preventable (Nebehay, 2015). Qatar has not escaped this worldwide epidemic, in fact the situation may be worse than the global average, as traffic accident rates are alarming and expected to rise dramatically in the next 10 years (Nehlawi, 2013 citing the Qatar Statistics Authority). The report indicates that a 160% increase in MVCs has occurred in the last 10 years as Qatar's population has exploded ? almost tripling in the past 10 years (Trading Economics, n.d.). The number of deaths caused by road accidents is high, 12.5 percent, which means that for every 8 deaths in Qatar, one is from a traffic accident, a higher death rate than from cancer (The Peninsula, 2013). Nehlawi (2013) estimates that the economic impact alone is staggering; Qatar's GDP may be affected by as much as 2.73 billion USD annually.

The significant costs associated with MVCs have motivated numerous message campaigns designed to encourage drivers to engage in less risky behaviors in many locales, including Qatar. However, safe driving campaigns in Qatar are in their infancy. The first campaigns contained fear appeals that typically involved pictures of vehicles that had been smashed almost beyond recognition in accidents posted on signs around the capital city, Doha. A second generation of campaigns has recently been developed that are also fear appeal based, but feature more sophisticated messaging and visuals than the first group did. While laudable in their goals, both sets of campaigns are not based on either a theoretical framework or preliminary research on the target audience. Additionally, evaluation research on the specific campaigns has not been conducted making assessment of message efficacy difficult. Even if the campaigns have had some effectiveness, 18–25 year old Qatari men, our target audience, continue to be the highest risk group, involved in a disproportionate number of MVCs, suggesting the campaigns are not working for this cohort at all.

One of the common reasons message campaigns fail to have the intended effect is the lack of correspondence between the message content, form and design and the audience's attitudes and beliefs (Yzer, 2012). Different people respond to the same message in different ways: some may find it engaging while others ignore it, some may reject the message while others find it resonates with them. The stronger the match between the message and the audience, the higher the likelihood of persuasion. Creating a message that is closely tailored to an audience requires an understanding of the way they think and are likely to respond to the messages. Targeting specific audiences with targeted or tailored messages is essential for a safe driving campaign to be effective in changing behaviors. The objective of our study is to enable effective message design and tailoring by discovering young Qatari men's (18-25 year olds) attitudes and beliefs about driving behaviors and to then create such a message. Our research has two phases: (1) formative research on the target audience and (2) message creation and evaluation.

In the first phase of the research we conducted focus group discussions with 18-25 year old Qatari male drivers to discover their driving attitudes and behaviors to provide guidance for the tailored message campaigns designed to change their attitudes and behavior. We discovered that the perceived capability of actually changing one's behavior is seriously impeded by characteristics our respondents shared and that they typically engage in quite risky driving behaviors. High sensation seeking increases reckless driving because it is rewarded by both the psychological pleasure derived from dangerous actions and by young men's peers and simultaneously creates a barrier for attitudinal and behavioral change. Driving at excessive speeds and refusing to wear seat belts are some of the high-risk behaviors our respondents reported. In fact, they believe that seat belts can actually increase their likelihood of death or injury, rather than understanding that the opposite is the case. A respondent noted: “every time I tell him to wear the seat belt he tells me ‘what if the car flips? Everyone I know who have been in that situation get out from the window.’ They say that the seat belt will stop the people from being able to get him out of the car. They think the dangers are more than it's benefits.”

In the focus group discussions our respondents also reported fatalistic beliefs and message reactance. Fatalism is a belief that what happens to a person is not a result from their own behaviors but rather is caused by an entity higher that them, typically God, but non-religious people can nonetheless still have high levels of fatalism (Shen & Condit, 2012). A high level of fatalism presents a challenge to message campaigns because the message recipients, who believe they do not have control over their own fate, may reject the desired behavioral change. The young men in the focus groups reported such beliefs. As one participant stated: “When a person drives that fast they always say it's on God, or whatever's going to happen is written.”

The combination of fatalism and high sensation seeking coupled with routine engagement in risky driving behaviors makes our respondents a particularly difficult group in which to inspire behavioral change. Message campaigns must take these factors into account to increase their likelihood of success, however our respondents reported that they ignore or are reactive to standard safe driving messages. They indicated that they tuned out as soon as they recognized the persuasive intent of such messages. One participant stated, “there is good awareness and dangerous ones. If you get them used to drama and tears in videos they're going to get bored.” Other participants emphasized that they were particularly uninterested in sad or dramatic stories of loss and grieving. As another participant said, “as soon as I see the start as dramatic or sad, I stop watching the video straight away. I don't like watching these things. If you grab the viewer's attention from the start he won't stop watching. If the start of the video was a sad song or an accident the viewer will not watch it.” A participant argued that “the genre won't affect anything if just depends on the first 10 seconds of the film, if they draw the viewers in it would be successful. For example, you could be telling them a story but you shouldn't indicate that a person dies or an accident will occur.” Creating a novel message that they do not recognize as a safe driving campaign with a persuasive intent that is neither sad nor overly dramatic is required for successful influence on their attitudes and behaviors.

In the second phase of our study we created a 6-minute persuasive video targeting the use of seatbelts and tailored to the attitudes and beliefs that emerged from the focus group discussions. We sought to create a message that would be interesting but could not be dramatic or sad given the reactance to such messages. In such a situation, humor is perhaps the most obvious alternative. The research team brainstormed ideas then wrote a humorous script that features a personified seat-belt who chases after a group of young Qatari men and attempts to convince them to wear him. In the end he convinces the main character to wear him and thus saves his life after an accident. The other young men witness this event and also start wearing their seat belts.

We workshopped the script with men from the target audience for realism, appropriate dialog and vocabulary, humor and believability. After revising the script, we cast professional actors and shot the film. All of the actors are native Qataris from the target age group and the film is shot entirely in the local dialectic with English subtitles. We made a rough cut and then ran another focus group with the target audience to ask for their evaluation of the film. Based on their feedback we made some changes to the end of the story to increase its persuasive effectiveness. We are currently finalizing the film and editing, then we will screen it to our target audience. We plan to work with Qatar University and local schools for the screening and to do talkbacks for the evaluation research. The Qatari members of the research team will conduct the talkbacks and we will invite the actors as well. The film itself should have a persuasive effect on at least some members of the target audience and of course attitudinal change from messages is incremental and never affects an entire audience. The talkbacks should increase the persuasive effectiveness as they encourage more thoughtful reflection on the message and the opportunity for the members of the research team to orally target barriers to persuasion. We anticipate completion of this stage of the research by March 2016.

Health message campaigns are the most likely to be successful when they closely match the attitudes, beliefs and barriers to persuasion in the target audience. Developing such messages requires knowing these aspects of the intended message receivers. As our campaign focuses on an understudied population, 18–25 Qatari male drivers, we sought to learn directly from them what they believe about driving behaviors as well as their responses to safe driving messages to facilitate the creation of a tailored persuasive message. Our humorous film is not recognizable as a dramatic or sad safe driving campaign, is closely tailored to our target audience and the mechanism of screenings with talkbacks should increase its persuasive effectiveness, hopefully convincing young Qatari men to wear their seatbelts and thus saving precious lives.


Nebehay, S. (2015, October 20). Traffic deaths preventable, WHO says in call for road safety. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/20/health-who-roads-idUSL8N12J18L20151020

Nehlawi, M. (2013, April 17). The price of Qatar's high road accidents. The Edge. Retrieved from http://www.theedge.me/the-price-of-qatars-high-road-accidents/

Shen, L. & Condit, C. (2012). Addressing fatalism with health communication messages. In Health Communication Message Design, Ed. H. Cho, Sage.

The Peninsula (2013, December 8). One in eight dies on road. Retrieved from http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/266029/one-in-eight-dies-on-road

Trading Economics. Qatar Population. Retrieved from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/qatar/population

Yzer, M., (2012). The integrative model of behavioral prediction as a tool for designing health messages. In Health Communication Message Design, Ed. H. Cho, Sage.


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