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Virtual Coastwatch

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New Zealand (NZ) is an island nation with boating a common part of many Kiwi’s weekends.

Whilst the majority of “boaties” agree that wearing a lifejacket will save your life, attitude wasn’t translating to behaviour: only 40% of boat users were wearing a lifejacket every trip. NZ weather is highly volatile and disaster can strike when least expected, so FCB Media’s task was to make lifejacket wearing more habitual – part of every boating trip.

Previous research showed wearing lifejackets clashed with the emotional sense of freedom people went boating to enjoy. This had inspired the agency to integrate into the occasion itself to normalise the behaviour; wrapping messages around planning a boating trip and embarking on their trip to prime the audience.

But while this historical media strategy had made messaging ubiquitous earlier in the planning process, media presence was lightest at the critical behaviour change moment – when boaties were physically out on their boats, on the water. Crucially, research showed this was the exact moment when the emotional sense of freedom and being away from “prying eyes on land” overruled the rationality of knowing wearing lifejackets saves lives.

Behavioural insight research suggested a solution: whilst behaviour change can be primed in advance, people often need subtle nudges in the moment to actually change their behaviour. The lack of message salience out on the water meant intention wasn’t translating into action.

Insight: to make lifejacket wearing more habitual it had to create a place for Maritime Safety in the moment itself.


Media space on the water was naturally limited: the point of going boating was escaping the many media interruptions on land. And despite the growth of data-targeting opportunities, there is no “boating right now” audience segment to buy. Or was there?

Research by Maritime Safety NZ shows the most commonly used communication device by boaties when on the water is a mobile phone. At the end of 2013, significant improvements had also been made to 3G and 4G coverage across coastal regions – reflected in the wealth of boating and fishing photos on social media every weekend.

These two factors combined presented an opportunity and informed the agency’s simple strategy: become the unmissable mobile companion out on the water.

To achieve this it would need to recalibrate media investment, prioritising “on the water” mobile investment over media like TV that reached boaties earlier in the boating occasion. But it would also need to take an entirely new approach to targeting, one that guaranteed it would be visible on mobile phones out at sea and during every boating trip. 


FCB Media developed a world-first system to nudge boaties with messages in the crucial ‘on the water’ moment.

Here’s how:

It started by location-mapping every major boat ramp in New Zealand. This gave focal points to increase investment of always-on mobile inventory around. Next it painstakingly built a targeting zone around the entire coastline of New Zealand. This meant setting up over 140 different longitude and latitude points as targeting markers – someone physically dropping pins onto a virtual map – to create a geo-location targeting zone around the whole of New Zealand. In effect, it created a geo-fence "trip wire" around the entire shoreline that would activate as soon as a boat left the shoreline. This was the first time in the world Google had ever geo-fenced an entire country.

The agency then activated this across Facebook, Instagram, Google Display Network and 24 different ad networks. Within this, it maximised exposure at NZ’s top 300 fishing spots through a unique data partnership with Made Media; they bought GPS data from fishing websites and cross-checked them against the most common boating accident areas to ensure it delivered maximum impressions where it mattered most.

By summer 2015, FCB Media had effectively created an always-on “virtual coastguard” system that ring-fenced the entire country, serving “put it on” prompts to people once on the water anywhere around New Zealand’s 14,000km coastline. Every time a boatie left shore anywhere in NZ, they would be served these ads.


Despite one of NZ’s hottest summers on record, when boating numbers increased 22%, this world-first mobile campaign achieved all objectives:

The number of boaties wearing a lifejacket every time rose from 40% to 44%.

As a result, vessel-related fatalities fell by 75%, or 21 fewer deaths compared to previous summer, an incredible result.

The system has delivered over four million lifejacket prompts so far, with more every day. It’s been heralded in national news and sentiment towards the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, with over 80% of people declaring it “a fantastic way of getting the message out”.

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Maritime Safety
Government/Public Sector
New Zealand
October - October 2016
FCB Media
Media Channel:
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