The Smart Crossing for Direct Line by S&S London

Sam Wise, Head of Planning at Saatchi & Saatchi London talks to us about the Smart Crossing project made for Direct Line

What was the brief original brief for this campaign?

The Smart Crossing is a great example of a collaborative client-agency brief. Direct Line’s main fight is with price comparison. Saving money is always relevant to people, insurance is only relevant once a year at best. If you’re talking about insurance there is only a narrow window of in-market relevance. We wanted people to come into market already knowing what Direct Line stand for. We call this ‘High Performance’, and The Smart Crossing (and Fleetlights before it) are demonstrations of how our High Performance approach can solve real world problems that our audience cares about.


In a few words, tell us about your role in the creation of this work

As Planning Lead it was my main responsibility to keep The Smart Crossing grounded in the issues we were facing, to make sure that this piece of innovation was a genuine solution to real problems with traffic. However, in our “brand activation” work the lines of responsibility become very blurred - when you’re determining how a road can compensate for a drivers’ blind spot, it’s everyone’s business.


What inspired you to approach the campaign in this way?

In Brand Activation we’re inspired by the world around us - we look for real problems that people think are solved, but where the solutions are insufficient. But the inspiration behind the whole stream of work is those brands that come out from behind their comms and commit to doing something - I’m thinking Red Bull Stratos, Lexus Hoverboard, even the Michelin Restaurant Guide. In a world where it’s all too easy to make promises, the challenge of using Direct Line’s innovation muscle to solve a real problem is a truly inspiring one.


How difficult was it to sell the idea to Direct Line?

Direct Line are both very trusting and very demanding, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We went through about a hundred ideas during the development process, but one thing you learn very quickly in innovation is that between stuff that everyone’s doing because they’ll make money off it, and stuff nobody’s doing because it doesn’t make sense, there is only a very small sliver of oxygen. But once we’d found it together, the rigour of the process meant that we could follow The Smarter Crossing with no holding back.


What was the biggest challenge you faced during the process?

The biggest challenge in developing The Smart Crossing was keeping it real. When you’re dealing with risk and safety, stunts are not okay, and Tomorrow’s World-style innovation for its own sake is gratuitous. Working with traffic experts, being sensitive to decades of UK road design, and making responsive tech that stood up to testing all took time and money, but without them, our project would be meaningless.


What did you learn from the experience?

As an agency, we learned once again that if something hasn’t been built before, there’s generally a reason around cost, time, and willpower. As a client-agency team, we learned to trust each other more than ever—that’s the only option when you’re making decisions on how the road of the future should treat a jaywalking pedestrian. As for me, I learned once again that truly, nothing is impossible.