Friday, 16 August 2013

Those Mad Ministers And Their Marketing Machines

There’s an episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper reveals a great business secret. He says advertising is based on one thing: happiness.

There must be some truth in this, as it seems we’re surrounded by fluffy, cheeky- chappie style advertising. The sort of advertising that calls you “mate”, gives you an unsolicited chuck on the shoulder and offers to get you a skinny latte with a dusting of cinnamon. Just the way you like it, mate.
Advertising. Mad.

These sorts of creepy campaigns, with their strummy, hummy music and freckle-faced children playing in the sun and ordinary suburban types trimming hedges really get my dander up. But thank goodness they stick to products and services I don’t give a hoot about. Well, it seems this happy clappy schtick has infected something I really care about – getting from A to B on a bike.

Before the last election the SNP promised to increase the proportion of government transport spending that goes on walking and cycling. They’ve done no such thing, instead committing billions to building new bridges, bypasses and dual carriageways.
Cycling. Not mad.

Two mass protests – Pedal on Parliament – have taken place and campaigners have been badgering the government constantly. To date we’ve seen little movement, with any new money going on tourist routes in the Highlands. Lovely but not what was being called for.

At some point it seems the government’s agencies – Transport Scotland and Cycling Scotland – presented ministers with a range of options for increasing cycling. Fixing the roads and making it safer would deliver great results but would cost a fair bit. However, you could run a marketing campaign to encourage “mutual respect” among road users for much less. I believe in any business meeting that’s what you call low hanging fruit, so it’s no wonder the minister gave it the nod.

The result is a half a million pounds campaign called Nice Way Code, and it certainly meets the Draper test of promoting happiness. There are cartoon cats being swung and grim reapers on HGVs. The central message is: wouldn’t it be nicer if things were nicer but let's face it, they're not. I’ve seen the campaign receive a warm welcome from keen motorists who dislike cycling and a frosty reception from cyclists who just want to be treated as human beings. That speaks volumes.

We can’t really blame Newhaven, the marketing agency, as they are simply delivering their client’s brief. But let’s assess how the brief corresponds with reality.      

A YouGov poll out today (admittedly on the back of comments made by David Cameron but still relevant in Scotland) asked people how often they ride a bike. Only 4 per cent of Scots cycle “most days”.

How safe are public roads? Across the UK 62 per cent say Not Safe. In Scotland this rises to 64 per cent.

Most popular factors among Scots for making people cycle more:

More dedicated cycle paths – 38 per cent.
Improved safety on roads – 35 per cent.
Better weather (!) – 24 per cent.
Safer storage of bicycles – 20 per cent.

31 per cent of Scots said none of the suggestions made would make them more likely to cycle. (Interestingly, across the UK this answer was given by 29 per cent of men; 39 per cent of women. It’s clearly much harder to persuade women that cycling can be made safe.)

And the big question: Should government encourage more people to cycle?
Across the UK 69 per cent say yes; this rises to 75 per cent in Scotland – the highest figure in the UK.

Nice Way Code
So, three quarters of Scots want the government to make it easier to cycle, and the most popular ways people can be encouraged are cycle paths and improved safety. Is it any wonder light-hearted images of horses on bikes have gone down like a lead balloon? Why are Scottish ministers continuing to ignore such a significant section of society? Why are they ploughing money into messages that enforce the idea that cycling isn’t safe?

So today I’m launching a copycat campaign. I’m stealing Newhaven’s idea to use classic Highway Code-style imagery but I’m replacing “Nice” with “Fix”...

Swapping “Way” for “The”…

Substituting “Code” with “Road”.
Fix The Road
As Draper put it, happiness is freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK.

Ministers can provide that reassurance by investing in cycle lanes and safer roads. Only then should they pay ad men to scream about it from billboards.

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