Tuesday 5 March 2013

Vorsprung durch Fahrradunfall


Part 2 of my Amsterdam trip is coming very shortly. However, in the mean time I felt compelled to share an e-mail that I was sent as a member the Strathclyde campaign group Go-Bike.

Hello there

My name is Sarah xxxxxx and I work for Story UK, the Scottish
Governments Marketing Campaign. We are launching a new campaign in May
aimed at encouraging Scots to drive less and walk and cycle more. xxxxx
xxxxxx suggested I contact you as an organisation that could support the
campaign in the Strathclyde area.

Would it be possible to talk to someone in more detail please? My
telephone number is 0131 xxx xxxx and I look forward to hearing from

All the best


I have absolutely nothing against marketing. We will absolutely need a marketing strategy to get people out cycling. There are a lot of wonderful aspects to cycling and cycle commuting that I myself try to market in some of my videos. However, (yes you knew that was coming, didn't you?) I was flabbergasted by this e-mail. 


As Yoda would say: Straws clutching at, government is.

The government has a TARGET of 10% of cycling by 2020. Yes, it is a target, certainly if we are to believe the evidence that Nicola Sturgeon gave at a recent parliamentary evidence gathering committee (despite what Keith Brown says). We are currently sitting at about 1% across the country. We have 7 years to reach that target.

So, Mr Brown and Ms Sturgeon, what is you vision for how we are going to reach that target?

Here is the transcript for a 'fly on the wall recording' in parliament following Nicola's evidence session between Keith and Nicola (this may or may not have actually happened):

Keith: Nic! What did you say at the committee!?!?

Nicola: Umm, what do you mean oor Keith?

Keith: You very clearly said that we have a target and not a vision for cycling modal share by 2020!

Nicola: No I didn't, I was clearly stating.....

Keith: Nic! Don't try and polotic me...one of the lycra clad groups will notice what you said and hold us to the target!

Nicola: Hmmm. OK. We need a strategy. What could we do that would costs us little or nothing, but will actually get us to our target...I mean vision... by 2020?

Keith: What about Clubcard points? Could we give cyclists Clubcard points if they cycle to the shops?

Nicola: I don't think we own Tesco yet? Is there somethign we can do with the banks?

Keith: We don't own the banks either, that's Westminster....mind you after independence......

Nicola: Got it! Marketing!

Keith: Marketing?

Nicola: Yes! It works for cars. We are nearly always stuck in our cars in long tailbacks, and yet car adverts with cars swooping down quiet Alpine routes encourage us to buy more cars. Marketing works for cars, why not cycling!

Keith: I see what you mean...so if we do some filming in a few foreign countries where the governments actually give a hoot about cycling, showing how wonderful it can be with the right infrastructure in place, then more people will get out on their bikes here, despite there being absolutely none of that infrastructure here?

Nicola: Spot on! What we need though is a catchy slogan....

Keith: The Bike in Front .......nah..... The Power of Vision.....errr

Nicola: Got it again! I'm on fire today.......Vorsprung durch fahrradunfall

Keith: It sounds good....almost German...but what does it mean?

Nicola: Don't know, but it sounds good and as you say, almost German.....It can't fail......

So there we have it. Rather than actually spend any significant money on actually making cycling safer and more convenient, the government is going to tell us that cycling is safer and more convenient without actually doing anything to actually make it so.Then, when 2020 come around and they realise that miraculously, they haven't reached the 10% target...I mean vision...they can point to all the wonderful marketing campaigns that they ran.

Keith (in 2020 who will bet he Supreme ruler of an in independant Scotland ): Look at everything we did for you, and yet there is still only a 1.5% modal share of cycling across Scotland. It must just be.............a cultural thing.........


  1. Marketing will 'sell' cycling for a day; infrastructure could sell it for life...

  2. In your face marketing rarely succeeds play the subtle detail - Suggest you invite more to join you on your commute and play on the 'what you are missing' strategy. People will always want something which looks better, especially if they notice they are missing out - like having time to stop for breakfast on the way to work rather than trying to eat on the move....

  3. I agree that marketing is part of it. What isn't is visions that are beyond the term of the current government *without* specific targets that fall within the current term. There is absolutely no accountability for the former and pollies know it. This latest spin campaign is simply a ploy to shut you cycling advocates up. Tell them to shove it and to give you a tangible target instead.

  4. While the state of play for cycling is Not Good in Scotland, the truth on the roads is it isn't as bad as many/most people perceice (if all those people saying we are mad and/or doomed were right this blog wouldn't be here, I suspect).
    So on the one hand marketing could have a use in pushing the reality and perception closer together, but TBH I can't see anyone rising to the challenge of saying "Hey, come cycling, you might think it's always a really shite and dangerous way to get about, but the reality is it's passably pleasant and passably safe! (some of the time)" Who could resist that message, eh?

  5. Absolutely. Marketing alone can't achieve much. Especially if the product (sharing space with moving motor vehicles) is something 98% of the population have not 'bought' for decades. (Yes, statistics say it's safer than you think, but perceptions matter tremendously.)

    Where marketing techiques and public relations strategy SHOULD be used for most effect, I would propose, is in winning over the public to the need - the need for safer streets and the fundamental role of better infrastructure, road design manuals and 'filtered permeability' (what's a catchier phrase for that?) in making streets into places people want to be.