“Now, from many of the official pro-cycling campaigns I’ve seen, they’re about all the right things, like it’ll save you money, and you’ll get healthy, and it’s fun and good for the environment, etc, etc, but what I suspect is that although the message is good, perhaps it is the way it is delivered that needs work. Perhaps the message needs to be more manipulative. Like the really successful ad campaigns are. Getting what we want, collectively, has gotten us where we are today, which is to say, in a bit of a pickle. Now it’s time to make you want what you don’t want, so we can eat that pickle and then cycle off the calories.
And on that note… I will leave you in a low-to-moderate state of suspense as to the conclusion of this chapter, where we’ll casually explore some ways that we can exploit people’s weaknesses for the purposes of making them better at life. Because cycling!”
And so we now come back to this little series where we’re pondering the topic of how we can sell cycling to the general public using the tactics commonly applied by marketers everywhere who sell people things they don’t want all the time.
Basically, we can either use people’s desires or their fears in order to manipulate their behaviour for profit. You know what I mean – it’s not a car, it’s freedom, or masculinity, or a desire to appear superior. It’s not a no-touch antibacterial hand cleanser, it’s to prove to yourself that you’re a good mother and that you don’t want your children to die. It’s not that the Tuna Tuscany with Long Grain Rice and Garden Greens in a Savoury Sauce is better for your cat in any way, it’s that you want to feel generous and caring and better about yourself by giving a base creature a fine-dining experience. That’s how to sell things to people.
But wait – isn’t happiness, joy, and fulfillment in advertising, you ask? Good question. I’m obviously a pessimist, but at the moment I can’t think of any advertising that doesn’t have either fear or selfish desire at its core. I mean, not really. It’s not celebrating happiness or fulfillment, it’s trying to sell it to you. The presumption is that you don’t have it, or don’t have enough. Truly happy people don’t really need anything else. That’s the point. They’re satisfied. They are grateful for what they have. Content. Thankful. At peace. In short, they are terrible customers in a competitive marketplace.
I know that this sounds terribly depressing, but it is for the greater good. It’s like Wing Chun, using the enemy’s momentum against them. Let’s use the tools of evil for good.
On the one hand, fear seems to be a stronger motivator than joy or happiness, which is why the media capitalizes on it. If there was a news show about nice, cute stories on at the same time as one that further dramatized already horrifying, still-unfolding disasters, you’d watch the second one. Being happy can happen later, but knowing how not to die or live out your days in pain and suffering (however low the odds are) needs to happen right now.
On the other hand, desire seems to be a stronger motivator than fear for actually selling the products rather than merely attracting an audience, which is why news programs aren’t in the news business, they are in the advertising business. We’ll get the people to come and look while you sell them the things they desire to feel safe and of worth. The old one-two. Case in point, unfortunately, as is (repeatedly) demonstrated by recent events, that after every mass shooting there is a spike in gun sales. Make people feel vulnerable (emotionally, physically, etc), sell them a method of addressing that, and presto, you’ve made a pile of money.
(FxD) + P = CM
(Fear x Desire) + Product that apparently satisfies that = Cash Money y’all! But, for our purposes, the result is more cycling, hopefully.
I think that what we really need to nail down before we get ahead of ourselves are the key elements that cycling can address which people everywhere struggle with in really, uncomfortably, painfully, depressing ways. This will inform our campaigns that prey directly on what people fear, but also what they desire, such as the desire to be sexy really addressing one’s desire to not feel alone in this world and that someone cares about them. We desire love, and we fear not finding it. Appealing to one’s desires are great and all as a selling tool, but connecting your product to their desires and then basically suggesting to them that by not buying the product they will be missing out on all the goodness that life has to offer is what counts.
I think Maslow’s pyramid is a good place to start. Oh, and just to be clear, in case anyone might assume otherwise (?!?), I am the furthest thing from an authority on psychology, or advertising/marketing as one can be. But I’mma a just take a stab at this anyway…
Generally, I think that the sweet spot of advertising is in the middle of this pyramid, with a focus on Esteem. The prospect of simply being able to buy esteem is too much for most people. I suspect that this is where we might focus our efforts, but we’ll see where this takes us…
I tend not to think that those at the bottom of the pyramid are our target audience (though I’d love to hear someone’s theory on why I’m mistaken). If you are in the unfortunate position of fighting for your next meal, are homeless, or fear being eaten by wild animals, then wondering if you should take the car to work is probably not an important concern for you. There are, to be sure, very good physiological reasons to ride a bike, and though they may be brought into the sales-pitch, I don’t think that they are necessarily the strongest motivators that advertisers have at their disposal.
Safety is a strong motivator, for sure (gun sales in the US, security systems, sunscreen), but when it comes to cycling it’s usually brought up as a negative – cycling is dangerous. You’d probably be hard pressed to convince those who aren’t interested in cycling to take it up on the grounds that it’s safer than driving their car. Again, we might be able to use safety in a supporting role, but it seems to fall close enough to the bottom rung of the pyramid that we can lump them together as basic needs and not the kind of fear-based desire-fulfillment selling tool that we seek.
Most people spend a great deal of time trying to reach, and maintain, the third level of the pyramid, but I think that the line between this and the next (esteem) can disappear often enough. The social aspect of cycling is a strong motivator for those participating in it, and this can be as pure as enjoying time with friends and family, for example, but as greasy as trying to move up in the ranks in your social circle (esteem) by buying all the right things. For the kind of cycling that we’re interested in (practical), the fourth level is likely where our efforts will be centered, but, as many of the real benefits of cycling are likely to be realized in the top-level, self-actualization, we’ll have to try to slip in as many of these aspects as we can to the more self-centered level of esteem to maximize our effectiveness.
And now, as this is already getting pretty lengthy, this is probably a good place to break until tomorrow. I’ll pick this up then and see if we can match up people’s desires on the top half of this pyramid with the benefits and solutions to life’s problems that cycling has to offer.
Until then (and after then), put your thinking caps on and let me hear your thoughts.
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