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Montanans will see a public outreach campaign next year before the state begins producing Real ID-compliant driver licenses and identification cards.

Montana State University Billings business and communications students have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for the eventual blitz. Their market and strategy research will help determine how the ads are rolled out.

In part, the research found that while about 90 percent of Montanans knew about the impending Real ID requirement, they knew little else about the mandate.

"The majority of those people who are aware had a low comprehension factor," said A.J. Otjen, a marketing professor at the MSUB College of Business. "So there's a lot of education that we’ll have to do.”

Montana will begin offering identification cards compliant with the Real ID Act by January 2019, barring any more extensions. Without the updated security features mandated in the act, regular Montana license-holders wouldn't be able to fly on domestic flights or enter some federal facilities.

The state has been slow to comply with the act, which was passed in 2005. Montana politicians have tried to have the bill repealed while the state sought multiple compliance extensions. Rumors of exorbitant costs and federal databases held up the process.

It wasn't until this past spring that the Montana Legislature passed a bill that set a timetable for new ID cards.

Over the summer, the Montana Department of Justice's Motor Vehicle Division contracted with MSUB to develop an outreach campaign. This week, students presented their strategy to the division after a semester of work on research and strategy.

Students from both marketing and communications disciplines have been involved in the effort. The research included a segmentation strategy that sought to determine who would get a Real ID immediately, who would wait until a scheduled license renewal, who would wait until the last minute, and who would never get one.

Otjen said they project that about a third of people will seek a Real ID-compliant card right away. They projected those estimates for each county in Montana.

“That’s going to help give the MVD people a pretty good idea of how staffing will go,” Otjen said.

She said their findings also indicated that while there had been some political dispute over Real ID, most people were in favor of the change, which the government says will increase security.

Student research found that about 20 percent of people won't opt for a Real ID, though for many it's because they already have a compliant ID, such as a passport, Otjen said.

While students focused on strategy and research in the fall semester, they will move toward creative work and production of the campaign this spring.

Students will create several marketing campaigns and test them before full production. The end product will be a six-month multimedia campaign aimed at teaching people why and how to get a compliant identification card.

"With this project, we learned that how you present your message is key as you have to use the right words," said Braden Rolandson, a senior marketing student, in and MSUB release. "Because there's many ways to say it. Only a few approaches can truly convey what you want to deliver."

The ad campaign will lead up to January 2019, when the state will begin producing compliant IDs. The federal government won't offer more extensions by October 2020.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.