Texas turns to reindeer characters in anti-DWI campaign

Bar and restaurant patrons may soon notice new advertisements on walls and tables, featuring cute reindeer that look like they could be in a TV Christmas special.

But these cartoon animals are hoisting adult drinks -- a frosty beer mug, a Champagne bottle and a carafe of unidentified booze -- on advertisements that read: "Don't drive if you're tipsy, buzzed or Blitzen."

The messages on coasters, bathroom posters and mirror stickers are part of the Texas Department of Transportation's latest campaign to prevent drunken driving.

"We're going into the bar areas and restaurants where people are having a good time," said Tracie Mendez, who manages the department's driver behavior program. "We don't want to send a doom-and-gloom message. We want to send a message that catches their eye, so they will read it."

Different platforms

The characters are purposefully meant to evoke the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon, officials said. The message will also be printed on decals that can be placed on convenience store windows, cooler doors and gas pump handles.

Several Tarrant County watering holes have agreed to use the materials. Reindeer stickers have been placed in bathrooms at Sushi Axiom, 4625 Donnelly Ave., in west Fort Worth.

"It's cute and the customers like it," manager Ning Daoruang said.

The campaign also features a YouTube video titled Reindeer Barn. In the video, a barn full of reindeer are partying with drinks and hip-hop music, then Santa interrupts and whistles for a taxi. A Facebook game involves an elf walking through a workshop taking keys from indulgent co-workers.

The total campaign costs nearly $688,000, including statewide radio and TV ads, Mendez said. Federal funds aimed at drunken-driving enforcement and education are covering most of the cost.

A varied coalition

of participants

Although drunken driving is a serious topic -- alcohol is a factor in up to 31 percent of fatal crashes, according to one state estimate -- the whimsical campaign is endorsed by a variety of industries because it encourages imbibers to get a designated driver. But the campaign doesn't discourage alcohol consumption itself.

Organizations and agencies taking part in the program or helping distribute materials include the Texas Restaurant Association, Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, Texas Package Store Association, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving isn't part of the reindeer campaign but has partnered with the Transportation Department and law enforcement agencies across the state for another public service campaign titled "Take the wheel." The campaign reminds motorists of not only the dangers of drunken driving, but also the financial cost -- including potentially thousands of dollars for bail, legal fees and other expenses.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796