Note: I like where this is going, but it appears to be a behemoth of a topic. Being somewhat limited in the time I have to devote to these posts, I am simply going to write as much as I have time for and then continue my thoughts on the next available day. I’m a little excited to realize that I’m embarking on producing my first mini-series! Share your thoughts along the way, and maybe we can make something of this.
Following on from last weeks discussion, it would seem that we need a fresh (or at least a slightly different) approach to selling cycling if we want to make it genuinely appealing to the general population in car-centric places like Australia.
If cycling were a product like any other, we need it to appeal to people on a visceral, emotional level, rather than purely a practical one. Forget facts, we need fantasy. Or fear. We need the product to grab people by the short and curlies so that it bypasses the story line that has been sold to them by the media over the past number of decades. That slightly humiliating, slightly denigrating way that the media and the masses have subtly mocked cycling for the past… well, for quite some time, anyway. I’d include the government as a co-author of this story line, but that would probably make me sound like a conspiracy-theory nutcase. At the very least, I will comfortably suggest that the government has towed the car-first, people-second line not necessarily because they have some deep, moral conviction about it, but because they’re essentially popularity whores. Most people drive, most is the amount of votes that you want, so give the most what they clamor for, whether or not it is good for them (unless its so not good for them that they don’t live long enough to keep you in power).
At any rate, we need to figure out what kind of product cycling is, which demographics have the most buying power, and connect the benefits (real, technically possible, merely suggested, or entirely made up but couched in just vague enough terms so as to lie in that legal/moral grey area, as per normal advertising) of cycling to the fear of not possessing/enjoying them. We need to make people feel like they need it rather than simply knowing that it will be good for them. Like they’ll be less of a person without it.
This is all sounding pretty murky, but although I entirely agree that it’s a little disgusting to be suggesting we need to take this line of attack, I would argue that this is required as we are selling cycling, not bikes. We are selling the idea, not the object. We need to appeal to people’s biases, prejudices, apathy, and fears, and you’re not going to bring about a wholesale change in attitude without getting a bit dirty. The Netherlands decided to change their attitude towards transportation because they were brought to a point where thousands of people, including 450 children, were killed in one year on the roads. I suppose, technically, this might work in Australia, but I would strongly advise that this is quite a bad idea. Still, the Netherlands were an extremely car-centric nation up to that point, as we are now, so I would suggest that we would similarly need a rather significant impetus to bring about such a change in attitude.
Hence, the slightly underhanded but totally par-for-the-course tactics.
Step one – what are you selling?
Let’s have a think about what kind of product cycling is.
We could take a look at all of the standard positive attributes of cycling – the freedom, the fact that it’s healthy, both physically and mentally, it can make you smarter, it’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s good for the environment, it desegregates people and allows them to interact with those around them, it builds confidence, a means of escape and the opportunity to find yourself again, it builds relationships, it connects you to your environment, and perhaps, sometimes, even to something far bigger.
That’s good material for the positive, pro-cycling sell, but there is also plenty of solid material for the negative, anti-driving sell. The big hitters that provide more material than we know what to do with are obviously road trauma in the forms of death and severe injury along with the shattered lives and broken families, etc, that come with that, pollution and all of its various impacts, the stresses of traffic jams and long commute times on people’s physical and mental well-being, the compartmentalization of our communities, and the me vs. them mentality of driving. Then there are the expenses of running a car, housing it, and parking it and the real estate required for that that could be much better used for housing people rather than objects that remain static for most of their lives. Again, lots of material.
The foundation for the negative sell would obviously be fear, or, more accurately, a way to redeem yourself from that fear or frustration, and because we watch the news, we know that bad news sells infinitely better than good news. But, like most products, the “positive” sell often has its sights subtly set on the consequences of not being in possession of the benefits of product X. You too could be beautiful if you use our product – you don’t deserve to look
your actual age old and a bit wrinkly. You deserve better (than what you unfortunately, currently have, or are).
So the product we call cycling is not transportation – it is whatever emotional or social currency that the specific target audience needs to have validated or satisfied. Trendoids may need to be sold that cycling is cooler than driving – cooler than you, anyway. Old people may need to be sold that cycling, which is fun and free, is better than all that expensive medication, which is imprisoning them in a financial, mental, and emotional fog. Young families may need to be sold that cycling is the best way to spend quality time with your children in your busy, modern schedule, to keep your kids (and you) from getting fat, lazy, stupid, and in need of Ritalin. Middle-aged professionals may need to be sold that, in order to regain the golden years that they lost chasing after a career that brought them wealth and power but not happiness, they need to buy it in the form of a bike.
I’m just spit-balling here. These are all unfounded cheap-shots, but, then, all is fair in love and war, right?
To be continued…
Header image: source