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Published: Wednesday, 7/4/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Talking urinal cake taking aim in DUI war

BY SOPHIE BROACH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lynn Sutfin, spokesman for the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, explains the talking urinal cakes during a news conference. Lynn Sutfin, spokesman for the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, explains the talking urinal cakes during a news conference.
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In hopes of stopping the spike in drunk driving that usually accompanies the week of the Fourth of July, Michigan has begun using talking urinal cakes to warn drunk bar and restaurant-goers to stay off the roads.

Movement sets off the urinal cakes' audio message, in which a coquettish female voice says, "Hey listen up. That's right, I'm talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many? Well do yourself and everyone else a favor and call a sober friend or a cab."

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning partnered with the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association to distribute the talking urinal cakes to 200 establishments that serve alcohol in Michigan's Bay, Ottawa, Wayne, and Delta counties.

The talking urinal cakes arrived in the bathroom at Goog's Pub and Grub in Holland, Mich., last week, and owner Brad White says men often walk out of the restroom laughing.

"It does get them talking about it and talking about designated drivers," he said. "It's kind of startling when you walk up to the urinal and hear a woman's voice start talking to you. … If we just put a poster on the wall or some sign up people really don't pay attention."

"It's a new, different way to talk about drunk driving that people certainly notice," added Anne Readett of Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

Ms. Readett said the Office of Highway Safety Planning usually relies on posters and place mats to warn against driving drunk, but she thinks this unorthodox strategy will be more attention-grabbing. She mentioned the challenges of getting people to absorb messages about often-discussed, unglamorous issues such as seat-belt use and drunk driving that nonetheless cause the greatest numbers of highway fatalities.

Urinal cake advertisements avoid this problem by targeting a very captive audience.

"This is the best time to get a guy alone and get his attention. We'll catch him at his vulnerable moment," Scott Ellis, the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, said with a chuckle.

The talking urinal cakes also provide a way to lighten the mood when dealing with a very serious issue. "Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands," the voice adds at the end of the audio recording.

"At first it may be seen as humorous, but the seriousness of the message will stand out and encourage patrons to find a safe ride home," Mr. Ellis said.

Men in particular need to hear this message. Last year in Michigan, men made up more than 80 percent of drunk drivers in alcohol-involved fatal crashes, and Michigan typically arrests three times as many men for drunk driving as women.

Mr. Ellis said restaurant and bar owners who belong to the association were generally enthusiastic about using the talking urinal cakes. "They've loved it," he said. "Obviously we feel we have to do our part for responsible drinking."

The Maryland-based company Wizmark manufactures the talking urinal cakes, which cost $21 and last for about three months.

Wizmark's urinal cakes are also used for projecting other messages, including advertisement s for Molson beer.

Other states including Arizona have used talking urinal cakes to caution against drunk driving, and Mr. Ellis said he thinks such use will increase nationwide.

"We've already had a ton of phone calls from other states asking where we got them," he said.

Contact Sophie Broach at: sbroach@theblade.com or 419-724-6210.


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