Sunday, October 14, 2007

Effective Advocacy (letter I just sent to Bicycle Retailer)

Bicycling advocates and industry representatives say they want to get more Americans on bicycles. The industry throws wave after wave of products at consumers, hoping that will excite them. The advocates pursue various forms of government support and attempts at public education that can often be about as exciting as a bowl of plain oatmeal. Maybe educating kids in school about the pleasures of cycling will plant an idea in their minds that will survive after they get their driver's license. Maybe not.
The last bike boom, centered on mountain bikes, brought an avalanche of money into the bike business and a wave of enthusiasm for cycling to the general public, without any real push from the industry or advocacy groups, some of which did not even exist then. The public brought their interest to the bike shops. They saw the simple, versatile, durable mountain bike and everybody wanted one.
After the industry technologized all the simple fun out of it, the mountain bike boom died, never to be reborn. Yes, we have all sorts of great niche bikes suited to every type of rider, but how do you promote that to a public that thrives on simple messages?
The answer: generic advertising. In mass media, in the public's face, relentlessly, figure out some way to make cycling look fun. Make it look cool. Place it in movies. Come up with some cycling lifestyle flicks, like the ones that came out in the 1980s only better, that insert it into the public consciousness. Make people want to bike. Then build the bikes they ask for, when they ask for them, rather than thinking you know what they'll ask for and committing to warehouses full of them, that you then have to get rid of by any means necessary.
Advocacy becomes easier when a lot of people are asking for facilities and consideration as a user group. You can't possibly build enough infrastructure for people just to stumble on and start wanting to use. You need to inspire people first, and then the money and the infrastructure will follow. Otherwise it's just a constant uphill battle to partially fund a fraction of what's already needed to provide for the riders we already have.
Send the call out now to all creative types who love cycling to produce whatever they produce: music, films, writing, photography, comic strips, promoting positive messages about cycling in all its wonderful forms. Talk it up in positive, non-confrontational ways. Cycling is all kinds of fun. All kinds of creators and communicators need to keep it in view. Don't be tiresome. Don't nag. Don't instruct. Show the fun.


SiouxGeonz said...

OUr advocacy group noted this too. Have stuff about cycling that - amazing!- *isn't* about "how not to get killed." When people talk about skiing, is it all about not getting killed? (For me it would be!)
I"m encouraged by the number of non-cycling-product ads which now have cycles in them. The Volvo one with the long distance cyclist is one; lots of others include bicycles in the background of a 'family' scene. We can be assertive...

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