In February 2000, DaimlerChrysler Corporation nationally launched Fit for a Kid, a free and permanent child seat inspection service offered through its network of Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealers. It was created to combat a serious threat to children about which most parents do not know. Eight out of every ten children riding in child safety seats are not buckled in correctly—putting 10 million kids a day at risk of serious injury or death in the event of a vehicle crash. The Corporation was the only automaker to accept and exceed a 1999 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendation that called on all automakers, states and others to support the creation of a nationwide network of child safety seat fitting stations. Fit for a Kid gives parents a convenient place to get the help they need to keep children safe. The service is open to all families, no matter what make or model vehicle they drive. The launch is worthy of an award because it raised awareness of the issue, spurred more than 20,000 inspections, and to date, eight young lives were protected from harm in motor vehicle crashes as a result of Fit for a Kid inspections.
Traffic crashes are the number one killer of children. According to the NTSB, each year approximately 1,500 children die and 900,000 are injured in motor vehicle crashes. Sixty percent of the children who die in crashes are completely unrestrained. Research commissioned by DaimlerChrysler and the National Safety Council also found that a startling 96 percent of parents and caregivers believe that they always install and use child safety seats properly, when actual inspection data show fewer than 20 percent really do.
Before DaimlerChrysler developed Fit for a Kid, parents and caregivers who wanted their children’s seats inspected for proper fit had few options to choose from—mostly sporadic community check points that often meant long lines and long waits for parents and caregivers. There was no permanent, reliable location a parent could go—at their convenience—to make sure their children were safely buckled in.
DaimlerChrysler saw the NTSB recommendation as an opportunity to protect young lives, educate parents on child passenger safety, reinforce its position as a safety leader and further enhance its public image. The Corporation also cornered a niche in the competitive auto safety market by offering a safety service that complements its product safety record. (Research shows that women make the buying decision when it comes to family vehicles. Fit for a Kid, a service directed at women, was a natural fit for the Corporation.) At the time, the only other automaker involved in the effort was General Motors which sponsored occasional community checkpoints through the National SAFE KIDS campaign.
Four months after the NTSB recommendation, DaimlerChrysler announced it would pilot Fit for a Kid for its customers in four markets. The announcement made major headlines across the country. The deadline for the national launch of the service was set for February 2000 and there was much to be done.
Building and promoting the program presented several challenges. First, a service of this type had never before been created. A model for a dealer-based system had to be designed. Dealers needed to be recruited and staff trained and certified, legal concerns overcome and a support and promotion system built. Second, the safety community, those who have a vested interest in child passenger safety, needed reassurance that this was a serious commitment on the part of the Corporation—not just a PR move. Without support from the safety community, the effort could have backfired. This led to engaging the National Safety Council, a leading organization dedicated to safety issues, to handle inspector training and record keeping. Also, there was a clear need for child safety seats. Fisher-Price was enlisted as a partner and supplied much needed safety seats to the service to be used as loaners. Last, parents themselves lacked essential awareness of the problem, creating a tremendous need to promote both the issue as well as the service.
Fit for a Kid was and continues to be a research driven campaign, directing program development, implementation and promotion. After understanding the epidemiological research, focus groups were conducted to test program messaging. Focus groups showed that women were more likely to pay attention to the issue and that the most compelling message was that eight out of ten children are not properly buckled in. Pre- and post-surveys were conducted in the pilot markets to measure program awareness and attitudes about the service.
In January 2000, a national survey was conducted among caregivers that regularly drive young children. The national survey reinforced initial focus group research; re-affirmed the dealer-based model was appealing to caregivers; showed that the service would have positive effect on attitudes about the Corporation; and provided important information about caregivers’ attitudes and behaviors when it came to child passenger safety. Survey results were used to strengthen the news value of the launch.
The launch objectives were to promote the importance of car seat inspections; generate nationwide awareness of Fit for a Kid; drive families to dealerships for inspections; and reinforce the Corporation’s safety leadership role. The primary target audience was families with children, particularly female caregivers of child-rearing age. Secondary audiences included DaimlerChrysler customers; safety leaders; health and child care organizations; relevant government agencies; and internal audiences (e.g. dealers, employees, and corporate zone managers).
DaimlerChrysler also negotiated a promotional partnership with Arthur, the number one children’s television and book series. Arthur was chosen because he appeals both to parents and children and the three characters, Arthur, D.W. and Baby Kate, represent the three stages of child safety seat use.
To track interest and awareness of the service, a Web site and dealer-locator hotline number (toll free) were created to allow consumers to find a nearby Fit for a Kid dealer by simply entering their zip codes. For dealer-based promotions, materials were created including a safety tip brochure (English and Spanish), tabletop displays, posters, and Arthur activity books (English and Spanish). In addition, a cooperative advertising program (between dealers and the Corporation) along with advertising kit was created. The kit included template print ads, radio copy and direct mail samples.
To reinforce the importance of the issue and the seriousness of the Corporation’s intent, Jim Hall, chairman of the NTSB, was asked to participate in the launch. To maximize national exposure and to tap into a reporter pool outside the small pool of national “safety” reporters, the Chicago Auto Show opening breakfast was selected as the site of the launch. Unlike the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Chicago Auto Show offered as much media exposure without as much heavy product introduction competition. In addition, to reach local media, an aggressive effort was made in the 80 markets where the service was available.
Nearly all traditional public relations methods were used to promote the event. Associated Press was given an early exclusive; national morning shows were contacted and booked; print, video and audio releases were distributed; a matte article was disseminated; both satellite and radio media tours were conducted; and a post-press conference teleconference call with reporters not in attendance was held. Online parenting and news sites were contacted, too. Pitching was conducted in the top 100 markets. To add a local angle to the story, 80 separate market releases and corresponding participating dealer lists were distributed and local press (TV, radio and print) were encouraged to go to a participating dealership for interviews.
To make the story visually appealing, a minivan, with a “cut-away” roof, was staged for an onsite car seat inspection. The characters Arthur and D.W. and their creator Marc Brown joined the event, as did representatives from the National Safety Council and Fisher-Price.
All objectives were met and exceeded expectations. More than 500 media attended the auto show breakfast. Media coverage was outstanding including 509 print, 551 television, 539 radio and 51 online stories. Total impressions were 137 million. On the morning of the event, NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and CNN’s Early Edition carried live interviews with Jim Hall and DaimlerChrysler’s Sue Cischke. Associated Press ran three separate stories and put a photograph from the event on its wire.
Calls to the toll-free line skyrocketed. In January, there were 172 calls to the toll-free line, and after the launch, calls jumped to 2,383. The current monthly call average is 1,500. Web site hits went from 2,684 in January to 29,094 in February. Fit for a Kid inspections rose from 530 in February (there is a month delay in inspections reports) to 1,703 in March. Monthly inspection reports have consistently remained this high since the launch. To date, more 20,000 inspections have been done.
Post-launch research shows that caregivers aware of the service have a favorable image of the Corporation.
Most important, since the launch, eight young lives were protected from serious injury or death in a crash because of the service. In June 2000, the NTSB honored DaimlerChrysler with its outstanding achievement award for leadership in safety for Fit for a Kid. In November 2000, DaimlerChrysler became the first automaker ever to “exceed expectations” on a safety recommendation from the NTSB.