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End of tax discs: where was the DVLA’s comms plan?

End of tax discs: where was the DVLA’s comms plan?

October 7, 2014

The humble tax disk has disappeared from our windscreens as the DVLA digitises its records.

For more than 93 years the well-known paper circles have been used to show that drivers have paid their vehicle tax, so you might expect such a major change to have been accompanied by a targeted communications campaign across a variety of channels.

But it seems the DVLA opted out of this approach.

In fact, according to a survey by money.co.uk, half of the UK’s 30 million motorists were still unaware of the changes or what they meant just weeks before they occurred.

Getting rid of tax discs has been in the works since 2012, giving the DVLA two years to come up with and implement an effective communications plan detailing the changes and how it will affect UK drivers.

So where was it?

Let’s be fair, the DVLA did use its Twitter account to push a brief message about the change, directing people to its website.

A great idea – social media is a proven way to get information out to high numbers.

The only problem in the DVLA’s case is that it only has 13,000 followers – less than half a per cent of the driving population.

And then there’s this:

Aside from the fact that the DVLA’s first video about the change was released just two months before the implementation date, and solely on YouTube rather than TV or radio, what looks to have been thought out as a humorous public information film didn’t go down too well with viewers.

Describing the video as “rubbish”, a “waste of time” and “not clear enough”, it’s clear viewers would have preferred the DVLA had opted for more information on the changes and how they would affect them, as opposed to the ‘humour’.

So why no targeted communications campaign? Why little to no use of TV or radio to reach the masses?

These are just some of the questions the public was asking in a recent webchat with members of the DVLA, put on to provide more clarity around the changes – a good approach but an afterthought.

A stronger, earlier campaign may have saved them the trouble.

DVLA web chat
DVLA web chat

I took part in one of the webchats and asked Byron Lewis, DVLA Communications, why there hadn’t been a more targeted campaign.

DVLA web chat
DVLA web chat

He responded by explaining that the DVLA was targeting drivers “at the point they need to know” and that “letting them know early isn’t as effective”.

DVLA web chat
DVLA web chat

I, and the majority of the public, it seems, disagree.

Major changes to consumer life need an effective and informative communications campaign in place as soon as possible to get the backing of the people it affects, or at least to minimise criticism.

A great example of this was the change from analogue to digital television that completed in 2012.

Its advertising campaign – a mixture of TV, radio, print and social media, focused on their Digit Al character – was implemented in various stages as early as 2006, giving the public the time to understand and buy into the changes.

If only the DVLA had adopted a similar approach.