Marketing-driven Highway Safety Signs Blocked by Feds

The marketing grades are in: “A” for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “F” for the Federal Highway Administration.

The headline: New Jersey recently deployed clever road safety messages on electronic highway signs carefully crafted to connect with local drivers so important safety communications would be absorbed. The government’s response: STOP.

The beauty and marketing essence of the program is that the department of transportation team was able to effectively target drivers based on a strong understanding of the local population, including social and cultural norms and language (i.e., their customers). However, the federal government stepped in, slapped New Jersey’s hands and essentially told the garden state not to effectively communicate with its residents. While New Jersey may have violated some fine print in the federal transportation guidelines for electronic highway signs, the government has classically missed the forest for the trees.

Photos: NJ Department of Transportation via New York Post newspaper.

One of the most basic and critical fundamentals for business success is being able to effectively communicate and engage with your customers. That means truly understanding who they are, what makes them tick and how to talk to them to achieve desired influence, action and outcome. This includes using plain, direct language and humor if and when appropriate.

It’s exactly what the New Jersey Transportation Department did:

  • “The Department wanted to be more creative in how we present our safety messages. We are trying a few new messages that are both fun and catchy in hopes that people will remember the message to drive safely.”

Further, they optimized taxpayer dollars by utilizing in-house creative resources for the messaging. Here’s what the department’s social media manager said about the initiative in a LinkedIn post:

  • “Grateful for the opportunity to venture out of social media world and create new messages for NJDOT’s VMS boards. My team and I had a lot of fun adding humor (and sometimes sass) to these important safety messages.”

By the way, the Texas Department of Transportation takes a similar approach and they are now wondering if the highway sign police are coming for them next.

Photo: Texas Department of Transportation via NBC 5 News (NBCDFW).

So, when it comes to important safety messages on electronic highway signs, why not craft the messages to appeal to most of the drivers on the road? New Jersey had the right idea. The federal government crushed them. Are other states next?

Harvey Chimoff is a global marketing executive whose experience and expertise span consumer packaged-goods brand management, B2B manufacturing, and plug-in marketing leader consulting. He is a customer-focused leader who connects marketing across the organization to drive performance and achieve business objectives. Harvey is the author of the new book Strategy First, Then Tactics.® How Practical Marketing Discipline Provides the Winning Edge, available on Amazon. Contact him at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.