Bicycle Safety Campaigns Need Better Branding and Appeal to Core Values For Success – Jennifer Heinen
Bicycles have been a form of transportation for many since the early 19th century (1). In the current day and age, bicycles are still being used as a way to get to work or sightsee around the city. The number of bicycle trips in the United States has increased from 1.7 billion to 4 billion from 2001 to 2009 according to the National Household Travel Survey (2). There are many benefits to choosing biking over driving beyond just having an efficient way to get around. Riding a bike to work or to school increases the amount of physical activity performed through daily routine, and can be part of a healthy lifestyle. It has also been associated with reduced stress and increasing happiness, according to a BBC report (3).
However, the environment that cyclists face is increasingly more dangerous. Not only are there more cyclists sharing the road, there are even more obstacles to avoid in heavily populated towns and cities. On any given day cyclists on the road will be dodging cars (both moving and parked), pedestrians crossing streets and also fellow cyclists that have to share narrow bike lanes. According to the City of New York, 92% of all bicycle fatalities in the city were due to crashes with another car (4). Where there is an increased use of bicycle transportation, an increased awareness of bike safety should be implemented.
Many public health campaigns have been initiated by local administrations to advocate for bike safety on the part of both the cyclist and the motorist. Some towns and cities have laws for youth to wear helmets and most cities will issue violations to bicyclists that ride on sidewalks or who run red lights. Yet even with these laws in place, a simple observation of a busy city intersection will demonstrate how many rules and laws are consistently broken. According to one study, only 32% of bicyclists in Boston wear helmets (5). BU Today interviewed local police officers who claimed to have stopped 152 cyclists for moving violations over three days on the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and the BU Bridge (6). A tragic accident on Commonwealth Avenue recently brought bicycle safety back into the spotlight. According to an article in the Boston Globe, between January 1 and November 13 this year 579 bicycle accidents requiring ambulance services were reported. This is up from 548 incidents (approximately a 5% increase) from 2011 (7). After the Commonwealth Avenue incident a meeting on bike safety was held at Boston’s City Hall. Much of the discussion focused mostly on infrastructure, but there is still more in the way of changing the culture of the road and the attitudes of cyclists and drivers to create a safer bicycle riding envioronment. Although over 50 miles of bike lanes have been created since since 2007 in Boston, bicycle advocates believe the a closer look at safety is needed.
Boston Bicycle Safety Campaigns
Boston is a bustling city of over 625,000 residents (8) and the ridership rates in the city are increasing (9). With more cyclists on the road, there is increased need for awareness of bike safety for motorists and cyclists alike, and reinforcement of the rules of the road. Public health campaigns have been implemented by several organizations in the metropolitan area in attempts to educate all parties and decrease deadly (and not deadly) accidents.
Boston Bikes is the official bicycle safety campaign that is currently running in the Boston Metro area. According to the website, the program focuses on improving the city for bikes using engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement and evaluation (9). They have several campaigns running at the same time to promote bicycle safety and make Boston a “world-class” city for cyclists. Some of the initiatives include engineering more bicycle lanes to help make the streets more bike friendly, installing bicycle racks for safe parking, a low-cost helmet program to ensure Bostonians can have access to helmets and safety education among other campaigns.
The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) recently teamed up with the Boston Police Department to give away free or low-cost helmets to cyclists as a way to encourage safety while bike riding. The new Helmet Safety Campaign includes posters on T-stops and painted stencils on bike lanes in high-trafficked areas around the city (such as the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and the BU Bridge) (10). The BPHC’s website claims their message is that it is simply safer to ride with a helmet than without one, which is absolutely true. Yet, the campaign does not go any further into education about safe bike riding, but only emphasizes helmet wearing.
These campaigns each have their strengths and weaknesses, but there are some elements that are missing between all of them, which cause the campaigns to fail to be as effective as they can be. The rest of this paper will examine critiques of the BPHC Helmet Safety Campaign and will defend alternative approaches to public health campaigns focused on bicycle safety.
Critique #1: Not reaching the target market
Attempts at reaching the bicycle community in Boston to convey public health messages about bike safety may not be effective, or even be seen at all. The Helmet Safety Campaign run by the BPHC was launched in October 2012 and uses two-dozen posters around high-bike traffic areas around Boston (10). The posters are on bus stops alongside the bike lanes. Unfortunately, most bikers will not be stopping at bus stops to see these posters, so the population the BPHC intended to see them probably is missing out.
The campaign designers used information gathered from public surveys to find out why riders say they don’t wear a helmet while riding a bike. They used this insight to help create headlines on the posters that address those issues, such as not wanting to wear a helmet because of discomfort, helmet-hair or it being unattractive. An example headline is: “And you think a helmet is uncomfortable? There are no good excuses.” This headline is placed above a graphic photograph of a young man lying on the ground bleeding from the head, presumably from a bicycle crash. He is not wearing a helmet, and the message is basically saying he is injured from the bike crash because he was not wearing a helmet. Other two posters are similar, showing a cyclist from a crash, bleeding if not wearing a helmet or only slightly injured if wearing a helmet.
The Helmet Safety Campaign appears to be using the Health Belief Model, assuming that most of the people who choose not to wear a helmet will weigh the pros and cons for wearing a helmet, and make excuses for not wearing one (11). It is thought that those who decide not to wear a helmet don’t anticipate getting into an accident otherwise they would choose to wear one. The Helmet Safety Campaign page on the BPHC responds to public criticism by answering questions such as “Won’t this campaign discourage people from riding bikes in Boston?” and “Why do you show injured riders in this campaign?” with simplified answers denying that the campaign is not discouraging people from cycling and that the injuries shown encourage wearing a helmet because of the serious risks that cyclists face. The graphic images are reminiscent of the anti-smoking campaigns “1-800-Quit-Now” that feature a person who has had a tracheotomy as a consequence of smoking. However, it highlights only the consequence of not wearing a helmet to instill fear, and is not meant to encourage behavior change.
The violent imagery and fear tactic approach is not necessarily the way the bicycle community feels the advertisements would be best used. Josh Zisson, a Boston-based lawyer focusing on bike law commented on his blog Bike Safe Boston that he takes issue with the BPHC Helmet Safety Campaign (12). He highlights that the campaign advertises for bike crashes, because the purpose of a helmet is to protect the head in the event of a crash, rather than advertising safe bike riding. He cites studies that show that there is a theory of safety in numbers for cyclists, as the more bicycles there are on the road, the more drivers will become aware of them and use caution, and criticizes the campaign in how it can discourage potential cyclists from getting on the road. The bottom line for him in this campaign is “biking = crashes”, which simply is not true.
Critique #2: Poor branding of campaign for safety
The negative reaction that Zisson expresses on his blog is also a critique of the campaign’s lack of good branding. The focus on the eventuality of a crash does not only use scare tactics as their way to get people to wear a helmet, but it also does not highlight safe bike practices to prevent accidents. Not wearing a helmet is a big issue in urban bike commuting, but learning how to bike safely is also a concern to help change the culture of urban biking.
The BPHC Helmet Safety Campaign lacks all the good aspects of branding that is done for merchandise or concepts sold through traditional advertising markets. The catch phrase that is used is “no excuses wear a helmet,” which sounds more like your mother telling you to “put your coat on it’s cold outside” than any Madison Avenue advertising campaign would use to entice you to buy into their product. This kind of catch phrase is a great example of what Psychological Reactance Theory explains as what not to do (13). Telling the target audience to do something will cause them to react by trying to regain the control. The viewer of this campaign may be thinking “I am a safe cyclist and I never wear a helmet, so I don’t need to listen to what this advertisement is telling me.”
The graphic is effective in that it looks like a head wearing a helmet, but it does not stand out as graphically pleasing or memorable. In order for the target population to relate to the “brand” of bicycle safety, they have to attach themselves to a logo or brand of some sort. A more contemporary logo can give a campaign more character, personality and bring more attention to the campaign.
Critique #3: Not reaching out to public’s core values or emotions
Helmet wearing may not even be the biggest issue in bicycle safety. It is of course a concern for personal safety, but there is an even bigger force that drives commuters (whether riding a bicycle, driving a car or taking public transportation) that the campaign designers completely missed out on: the target populations’ core values. It is of importance to the general population of bicycle riders to not get injured or killed while riding their bike, but the fear of being hurt is not one of their core values. It is therefore necessary to look deeper into what motivates and inspires this population of cyclists.
Zisson also discusses on his blog how some cyclists will make dangerous choices even though they know it is dangerous and make excuses for their behavior (14). When cyclists run red lights they may rationalize it because they can “tell when it is safe to cross” or because they want to “stay out of the way” of cars by staying ahead of them. This kind of thinking can cause an accident regardless of if the cyclist is wearing a helmet.
To change the behavior of cyclists that are consistently making excuses for putting themselves and others in danger, it is important to appeal to their deepest desires and their core values. The value of personal safety may not win out over the value of convenience, so the designers of the bicycle safety campaigns need to discover what really matters to cyclists to encourage cyclists to think twice when taking a greater risk or running the next red light.
Alternative Campaigns: ‘Why I Bike’ Viral Videos and ‘Biking Safe Is Sexy’
There are an infinite number of ways to appeal to bicyclists to practice safe biking. The most effective will not cause psychological reactance, will appeal to the core values of the cyclist and should also use Marketing and Advertising Theory to articulate the message and get to the core values. Agenda-Setting Theory can also get people in the community talking about the public health campaign through expanding media attention to bike safety while doing so in a positive way. Social Norms Theory can use the power of the cycling community to make a large-scale change of behavior to more biking safer citywide.
Several campaigns and efforts by some individuals have been more effective than the BPHC Helmet Safety Campaign in using some of these social behavioral theories to promote bicycle safety. Viral videos have gained popularity, especially among young people in urban areas where bicycle commuting is possible. The proposed campaign will use viral video marketing and paid online advertisements to reach the target market through a series of commercials called “Why I Bike.” The commercials will feature men and women talking about why they choose to ride their bicycle to work, school or social events, while showing video clips of them riding their bikes in a safe manner. They will be real people, exemplifying the bicycle riding community through showing how they can be respectful cyclists and still get to their destinations and be fulfilling their core values.
Some of the core values represented in the campaign can be freedom, independence, economics and efficiency. For example, a cyclist will talk about how much they love being able to get places quickly and enjoy a little bit of sunshine after being stuck in an office all day as a reason why they bike. Another cyclist can talk about how they love saving money on taking their car to work and then using that money to go on a nice vacation at the end of the year as a reason why they bike. All cyclists will talk about why they bike safe. In all of the videos the cyclists will be wearing helmets, lights, reflectors, and will use turn signals, bike lanes, and wait at red lights. This will show real people being respectful riders, encouraging other cyclists to act the same way and showing non-cyclists why bicycles have the right to share the road.
Another aspect of the alternative campaign will be a variety of posters placed around the city that say “Biking Safe Is Sexy.” Instead of using graphic images of people injured while riding their bike, the posters will feature good-looking people wearing safety equipment such as a helmet, lights and reflectors, and stylish yet bike-able clothing. They will show that they can still be cool, trendy and sexy while riding a bike and being precautious of safety while cycling. This will touch the core values of freedom and independence, proving to people who already ride their bike that they can still be cool and unique while being safe on the road. To those who are not yet riding their bike, it sends the message that biking is fun, hip and it is possible to be safe while still looking good. The messages are a lot less direct than the Helmet Safety Campaign, but still effective in how it exemplifies regular bike riders are concerned with safety, and the cool cyclists always wear their safety gear.
Defense #1: Reaching the target market using proper communication channels (social media, viral videos, bike events, at bike parking stations, intersections)
Viral videos exemplify how Agenda-Setting theory has been used to shed light on biking issues in cities and have received widespread attention. Casey Neistat has received attention for his YouTube video “bike lanes” in which he sheds light on how the traffic environment in New York City makes it difficult for cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road (15). His video has received over 6 million views by people all over the world, and has started a global conversation about how cyclists can be safe in areas where they are not respected as vehicles that share the road.
A viral video campaign that includes positive messages about safe bicycle commuting can also get spread through social media outlets and gain attention in local areas as well as across the country. It can be aimed at cyclists and potential cyclists using online marketing techniques to ensure the target market is reached in cities where cycling rates are increasing. The video campaign will address the Health Belief Model, showing that people can take bicycle riding seriously and can weigh the benefits of making safety choices and believe they can look cool and still be safe at the same time. This belief is bound to resonate with some people who want to ride a bike because they think it is fun and cool, but are afraid of the risk that comes with it.
The Biking Safe Is Sexy poster campaign can target the appropriate audience of bicycle riders by having posters placed in areas where cyclists frequent. Placing posters on college campuses, near bicycle parking areas, on the side of Hubway stations, major intersections where there is high traffic, and near parks where people bring their bicycles can increase the views of the poster by the population that is intended for the message.
Defense #2: Grassroots sticker campaign, collaborate with designers to show bike safety gear as fashionable and safety is sexy
“Safety Is Sexy”, a blog that is unfortunately no longer still maintained, had a great campaign to “erase the stigma that wearing a helmet is dorky or uncool” (16) and used Marketing Theory to spread their message. They used a grassroots campaign-style sticker distribution to publicize their mission and change the public misconception about wearing helmets to that it is sexy and attractive. The stickers they distributed said “You’d look hotter in a helmet” and were intended to gain attention and point out that safety can also be sexy. They used a blog to share retro ads and campaigns, cycling fashion and show pictures of celebrities wearing helmets (17).
Stickers that say the campaign’s catch phrase “Biking Safe Is Sexy” will be distributed in a grassroots style similar to the “Safety Is Sexy” campaign. Cyclists will enjoy putting the stickers on their bikes and helmets, laptops, water bottles and anywhere else a sticker can be placed. This will bring attention to the “underground” movement that is being led by the cycling community to spread the word that being safe is something that is not only accepted among bicyclists, but also looked highly upon as something cool and sexy.
It is also possible to collaborate with designers, both local and global, to highlight their trendy and cool clothing that can be worn while riding a bike, and wearing safety gear. The models in the photographs that are used in the posters can wear the designer clothing. The photograph can be compared to any other fashion photograph, except that the model is exemplifying the best bike safety practices while wearing the clothing on a bike.
Defense #3: Give bikers themselves the power of making social change.
Josh Zisson of BikeSafeBoston.com believes that the use of Social Norms Theory can be used to create a bike safe community that is long-lasting and effective. He writes on his blog that it is important for cyclists to prove to the public that they deserve to be given respect on the road by respecting the road rules. By choosing to abide by the rules and laws of the road, such as stopping at a red light, the biker is sending a silent message to drivers, pedestrians and fellow cyclists that they take cycling seriously and deserve to be a part of the traffic on the road (14). The point he is trying to make is that cyclists can advocate for themselves by setting examples for model cycling behavior. Through their freedom of choosing to be a more respectful cyclist, they become a small part of a bigger impact that is changing the attitude of the public towards bicyclists to a more positive and more respectful view. This idea exemplifies Social Norms Theory, using individual behaviors to make a large-scale change of behavior toward safer bicycle practices.
In the viral videos and commercials for the “Why I Bike” campaign, we will hear from bicyclists who have chosen to take responsibility for their safety (and the safety of others) into their own hands, taking back ownership and their individual freedom to ride safe. They send their messages of why they bike safe to make a cultural revolution from the ground up to make bicycling safely a social norm, and not something that sounds like your mother is telling you what to do. In this way, it uses Social Norms Theory and also avoids Psychological Reactance. People are easily influenced by the actions of others, and when they see peers being socially aware and safety-conscious, it gently pushes them toward that behavior (18).
Bicycle safety is about more than simply wearing a helmet to protect one’s self against harm in an accident, but is also about preventing accidents. The best way to prevent accidents is not only to protect yourself personally from injury, but also to have the community as a whole be aware of the presence of bicyclists and give them space on the road them while driving.
An effective public health campaign to encourage bicycle safety would be a campaign that sends positive messages out about cycling to the community, so that there is no negative sentiment between drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. It would also have to be an empowering campaign that does not incite Psychological Reactance by cyclists, and makes safe bicycle riding the social norm. It is incredibly important for a successful campaign to appeal to the core values of the cycling community as well: freedom, independence and economics are some of the main reasons why people choose to ride their bicycle when commuting to work, school or just for fun. Finally, a successful campaign should not instill fear into potential cyclists, but rather encourage them to be a part of a community of safety and otherwise like-minded individuals. The more cyclists that are on the road, the safer urban bike riding will be.
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15.bike lanes by Casey Neistat.; 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzEIMaegzQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
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