A concerted effort was launched in late December amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes around the state.The first vehicle to hit an ITD snowplow came on Dec. 9, and then two more on Dec. 16. When a fourth happened just a few days later along with a couple of incidents where the plow had to run off the road to avoid being hit, the campaign was born. And to personalize it a bit, the caricature “Mr. Snowplow” was created by Justin Smith, the new Public Information Officer (PIO) for districts 5 and 6 (East Idaho).
“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” Smith explained. This included multiple social-media posts, press releases, and interviews with local media. A spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers wrote the poem “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved” and District 1 & 2 (North & Panhandle Idaho) PIO Megan Jahns posted it just before Christmas. The poem is listed at the bottom of this story. The post went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada. The result of the campaign was a much higher awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them. As a result, plow strikes dramatically decreased.
At that point, Smith saw an opportunity.
“I was watching the rapidly growing metrics on the Mr. Snowplow social-media post and noted we were still getting media requests for interviews, handled primarily by District 4 (South-Central Idaho) PIO Jessica Williams. I realized the poem hit an emotional cord with families, bus drivers, truckers, and others. It seemed tome the poem personified the snowplows and really changed how people viewed them – less as an impediment and more as a caring person who worked long hours to keep our roads safe,” Smith said. “I thought that a cartoon version of Mr. Snowplow would help us capitalize on the goodwill of the snowplow campaign. Taking an existing photo and using Photoshop, the snowplow was transformed into a cartoon character and acts as a kind and polite spokesman during our winter safety campaigns.”
“The idea was not to guilt people or try to use scare tactics about danger, but to have a friendly and kind personification. Mr. Snowplow is just a big friendly guy that kindly asks people to drive responsibly,” Smith explained. “Not necessarily a mascot, but more of a spokesman for winter safety. The idea is to make him extremely polite, and gentle so we humanize the plow drivers and help people think of plows as more than just obstacles.”
The entire campaign was innovative for a number of reasons. First, it was a spur-of-the-moment push to address a problem we saw that was a significant safety issue for our drivers and the community. Smith and Jahns worked to immediately get the word out in a way that was more effective than simply saying we had another plow strike. Rather than focus only on traditional media, they used social media as the primary lever to move the public’s perception of snowplows. Jahn’s statewide press release spurred reporters to see the problem as a significant issue, and Smith called local media to let them know we wanted to get the word out about snowplow safety. Newspapers, radio, and television across the state quickly picked up the story and printed or posted stories. There also were numerous comments in broadcast media about snowplow safety when announcers were discussing weather.
The campaign also has spawned Mr. Snowplow coloring pages, and versions of the character that can be modified to fit any specific need, along with a section of white space in the lower left-hand corner where text can be added. Also, Mr. Snowplow was created on a separate layer of Photoshop, so it’s easy to superimpose him on other images.
Here’s the poem mentioned earlier: