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Jim Reaper scaring South Dakota into driving safely. ‘Death is always riding shotgun’

The South Dakota Office of Highway Safety’s new spokesman, the star of two commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, gets a lot of double-takes when he ventures out in public in a black robe, carrying a scythe.
The South Dakota Office of Highway Safety’s new spokesman, the star of two commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, gets a lot of double-takes when he ventures out in public in a black robe, carrying a scythe. YouTube screengrab

The South Dakota Office of Highway Safety introduced residents to its new “spokesman” in Super Bowl commercials on Sunday and the dude looks like death warmed over.

He got a lot of stares and double-takes and incited nervous laughter when he skulked through the state capitol in Pierre last month.

He’s a hulk, some guess he’s 7-feet-tall. He wore a black hooded robe that covered his face. One of his gnarly white hands, with fingernails painted black, gripped a scythe.

His name is Jim Reaper.

Yep, just like his buddy, Grim.

He’s the star of the highway safety office’s new ad campaign to encourage South Dakotans to stop taking chances behind the wheel like not buckling up and driving distracted.

A particular target of that message: Teenage boys and young men, said to be involved in a third of all deadly accidents in the state.

“The Super Bowl is an ideal way to reach that demographic. Not just the young male drivers, but everybody else,” highway safety director Lee Axdahl told KDLT in Sioux Falls.

In one of the commercials, Jim, his scythe and another guy are riding in the back of a cab. The man is explaining that he called a cab because “after a few drinks, you know why.”

Jim gives him the silent treatment.

“OK, fine,” the guy says. “We can still get tacos. You’re buying, though. I bought last time.”

Lawrence & Schiller ad agency in Sioux Falls created Jim Reaper for the Drive Safe SD campaign.

Jim will star in eight commercials over the next two years and will “also pop up in bars, billboards, social media content and more to promote designated drivers, seat belt use and motorcycle safety” notes the agency’s Kristy Laue on the website.

Alcohol-fueled Super Bowl Sunday was the perfect day to introduce Jim because the chance of being involved in a drunk-driving-related crash increases on the day, and crashes spike 70 percent in the first hour after the game, Laue wrote.

The “unlikely” safety spokesman was created with the make-’em-laugh advertising philosophy in mind, which preaches that humor can make a message memorable.

“Translation: we can increase recall and overcome resistance by making our message more relatable, approachable and less preachy,” wrote Laue.

“A take on the Grim Reaper, Jim Reaper serves as a constant reminder that when you’re driving or riding in a car, you’re never alone. Death is always riding shotgun with you, watching and waiting for you to screw up so he can ‘win.’”

In the commercials, Jim Reaper tries to get drivers to do unsafe things, like not buckling up or not wearing a helmet. But he’s more a harbinger of ditz than death, so he never succeeds.

Smart decisions help motorists beat death, not just cheat it, Axdahl said.

“We may all have been tempted to cut a corner or two as a driver sometime in our lives,” he told KSOO in Sioux Falls.

“But these commercials are designed to make you stop and think. It only takes one bad decision that results in a permanent loss of a loved one or serious injury to you or others.”

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