Earlier this week I asked what you would do as a marketer tasked with getting people to switch from cars to bikes. The resulting discussion was impressive. The main points were to emphasize the ease and desirability of cycling, while not being too pushy or preachy and remembering that infrastructure is the most important piece of the puzzle. Steven Vance is discussing this approach in his Making cycling normal series, and of course it’s a constant theme over at Copenhagenize. Today I was hoping to report back on how I had the opportunity to spread this message via the mainstream media, but life is never that simple.
I volunteered to participate in the filming of a segment on winter cycling for a show on the new ABC Live Well network, along with a few other people, including Elizabeth of Bike Commuters and Julie of The Chainlink. Prior to filming, the producer sent us the following instructions:
Please be bike-ready, that is, bring your bikes and gear. We don’t want anyone showing up to the shoot site coming off a bus in work clothes! And finally, please bring your winter gear. We want to capture some footage of you guys wearing balaclavas, your three layers, and someone applying gel toothpaste to their goggles! (emphasis added)
After reading this, I considered canceling. I have no balaclava, goggles or gel toothpaste tricks, and my goal is to dress in work clothes looking as if I could have stepped off a bus instead of a bike. They obviously had a story in mind that I did not fit into. I should have followed my instinct.
The three-man crew spent 45 minutes interviewing the one guy there, while the four women stood by and waited. And waited. And waited. Past the1-hour mark (they told us it would take only 1 hour), Elizabeth had to leave for work. Finally, the interviewer said he wanted to get some footage of us riding our bikes down the street and then he would be done.
Our little group exchanged looks. Julie asked, “But don’t you want to talk to us and hear about what we do and how we dress?” He looked straight at us – Julie in her dress slacks and me in my skirt and heels – and said “You mean it’s not the same?” I wonder where on us he saw clipless shoes, messenger bags and neon windbreakers. She calmly explained that it was not the same, and he agreed to ask her a couple of questions later, but it seemed like he was throwing her a bone. I didn’t even get that much. After the group rode past the camera four times in a row, I confirmed that they did not want anything else and left.
The situation upset me for two reasons. First, it was extremely rude. We volunteered to show up for one hour to talk as a group about winter cycling, not to stand around for more than twice that time and serve as props. My job pays by the hour and leaving for three hours in the middle of the day meant I was at the office very late to make up the time.
Second and more importantly, the media slant is frustrating. The public image of cycling, especially winter cycling, is of a niche, extreme, ridiculous, hard-core, crazy pursuit that is best left to a very small population of young men. The media have latched onto this image and happily perpetuate it, even when a totally different reality is literally staring them in the face. The guy they interviewed is a passionate cyclist and I’m sure he shared lots of fantastic information about winter cycling, but he represents only one part of the winter cycling story.
So how does an experience like this change our discussion of marketing and/or promoting the simple bicycling lifestyle? We really need a lot more people on bikes if we ever want to get real infrastructure. I’m tired of being squeezed on the road between parked cars and speeding cars. How do we break through?