Sponsored By: EON – The stakeholder relations group

The Winner: Memac Ogilvy – Volkswagen The Human Crossing


In early 2016 there were frequent stories in the UAE about incidents involving pedestrian crossings. Research showed there was a major problem with drivers ignoring zebra crossings, and 20 percent of all road accidents involved pedestrians. Volkswagen knew it needed to make the roads a little more human, to remind drivers that pedestrians aren’t obstacles, they’re human beings, each with their own name and story.

Car manufacturers are always searching for ways to make their vehicles safer, adding more and more innovations each year, but this has had little impact on driver behaviour. What was needed was an idea that would change the approach to road safety entirely. So Volkswagen decided to change the game and become the first automotive brand to think outside the car. Working with the local government, it sought to make the roads a safer place by influencing people’s behaviour rather than changing the car itself.

In May 2016, Volkswagen collaborated with Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority and GEMS WellingtonAcademy to launch the Human Crossing, an initiative to raise drivers’ awareness and enable pedestrians to cross safely at zebra crossings. What started as a PR stunt involving 2,000 students at the Gems Wellington Academy quickly turned into a game changer, making the government aware of numerous new possibilities to make the roads safer.

The crux of the problem was this: if traffic lights and stop signs are failing to give  pedestrians a safe right of way on the roads, what will? The project needed to work culturally and appeal to the United Arab Emirates’ mixed demographic while reinforcing the message that Volkswagen cares about people as much as cars.

The key insight that when you know someone, you care about them more. So the campaign focused on making the roads a little more human and reminding drivers that pedestrians are people, too. Each pedestrian could be their son or daughter, brother or sister. The Human Crossing was born.

A unique structure with LED screens and RFID tag readers was placed at a busy crossing used by students directly outside GEMS, while 2,000 key chains with embedded RFID tags loaded with children’s names were distributed to students at the Academy, with flyers and presentations explaining the initiative to the faculty and parents.

When a student approached the crossing, the sensors picked up the RFID tag’s signal and alerted the oncoming driver that a student was about to cross, displaying that student’s name and asking the driver to stop for them. By doing this, an instant personal connection was created between driver and pedestrian, triggering drivers to stop so the person could cross safely. The sensor then followed the student as they walked beneath the Human Crossing so that drivers could clearly see the student’s name on the screen as they passed beneath it. This simple piece of technology created an important human connection between the driver and the student, enabling a positive behavioural change in drivers by reminding them that pedestrians are people, too.

The idea focused on one thing that everyone has: a name. The structure was built outside GEMS because it’s a school that has a mixed student demographic made up of United Arab Emirates nationals, plus Asian, Arab and Western expatriates. It was fully representative of the multicultural society.

To reach the wider United Arab Emirates audience, an online film was produced with a story about one of the school’s students named “Adam”. The story focused on his daily journey to and from school, following him from when he wakes up until he reaches the zebra crossing, where he asks the question: “Do you see me now?”.

The film was released with accompanying imagery and text on Facebook and YouTube and through traditional media channels.

The campaign generated a constructive consumer discussion about road and pedestrian safety, as well as headlines that included “Why can’t all Dubai awareness campaigns be as meaningful as this one?”. It positioned Volkswagen as going above and beyond, focusing on “the people” following a challenging year for the brand.


  • ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller: “The Middle East: A Region Divided”  – The Ninth Annual Arab Youth Survey 2017

  • INJAZ Al-Arab: Expand Your Horizon

  • Memac Ogilvy: Volkswagen The Human Crossing