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« Down in the Bicycle Forest, something stirred | Main | Twiddling »
Wednesday
Nov282007

Mass Advertising

I get in my car, put the seat belt on, and just as I turn the key to start the engine I look up and see an advertising flyer under my wiper blade.

This really pisses me off. I open the car door and try to reach the offending piece of paper. Usually I have to undo my seat belt to retrieve it; this time it is so far out of reach I have to get completely out of the car.

I don't even look at the flier, but crumple it into a paper ball and have to resist a strong urge to throw it into the parking lot, because I am not about to cause litter. What I really want to do is stuff it down the throat of whoever put it there.

I throw it on the floor inside my car; now I will have to pick it up when I get home and carry it indoors to my trashcan. How many trees die each year, only to end up under windshield wipers?

This has to be one of the worst forms of advertising; even worse than junk email. At least you don't have to unfasten your seat belt to delete a piece of junk email, and no trees die. Why is it a bad idea? Because the perpetrators are trying to sell me something and instead piss me off.

You will never sell me anything if you piss me off.

All this started me to thinking about the Critical Mass movement and what they are doing. Their cause is indeed noble and one I would support; to bring awareness to bicycles and the cyclist's right to be on the road. It is the method of delivering the message that I question.

Like the windshield flier, it is a poor way to get a message across. The flier under my windshield wiper might also be for a noble cause, a charity event for example, but I will never know because it made me mad and I never even looked at the message.

A demonstration, a civil protest is a form of advertising; selling an ideology rather than a product. Promoting a cause and trying to get people to come around to a different way of thinking. Blocking traffic in the middle of rush hour will get attention in the same way as the flier under a wiper blade; it does so because it makes people mad.

They will take the “Cyclists Rights” message, crumple it and dump it right out of their mind without giving it a moment’s consideration. I know it is not the intention of Critical Mass to disrupt traffic, but a group of several hundred cyclists, or even less, converging on one place then riding in a disorganized manner, will do just that whether it is the intention or not.

Does it make anyone who is not already a cyclist want to ride a bike? I very much doubt it. In fact, it probably has the reverse affect and alienates the average car driver, and causes them to be even more anti-cyclist than he already is.

The problem I have with Critical Mass is that it has no central organization to get the message out; I wonder if Joe Public even knows what cyclists are trying to achieve. It is small wonder that in some places police start arresting people, with no organization contacting them to inform that there is a peaceful demonstration that will take place on such a date and time, all they see is an unorganized riot.

I am not suggesting anyone should abandon the cause; I am suggesting bicycle activists look at alternative methods of delivering the message. For example, donating and raising money to pay for print or TV ads to promote cycling, starting on a local level might be one way. Good advertising that works costs money. Get the bike industry or environmentally conscious companies to donate money.

A lot more effort of course, but it could bring more awareness without alienating the very people we want to win over. Of course, if the goal is just to piss people off, you may as well go out and put fliers under their wiper blades.

Reader Comments (15)

My solution to wiper advertising is that if there is one in my car, I take it off and also collect them from all other cars nearby (time usually limits the scale of this operation, though). My anger is soothed because I know I have caused harm to the advertiser and I will laugh as I dump them into a paper recycling bin.

My solution to critical mass? Stop them. They are useless. Critical mass happens when enough people ride their bikes for a reason other than riding a bike. Ride in traffic. Make yourself seen. Don't be an ass, but don't be a sheep either. When there is enough bicyclists in traffic, more dedicated paths will be built and people will start considerin bicycling a viable method of transportation (instead of considering it a nuisance).
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
The point of critical mass, as I see it, was "you cannot ignore me any longer".

To some extent it was civil disobendience against the unwritten law that the road was for motorised transport only.

The audience was politicians, not the poor bunnies inconvenienced by the mass.

In as much as durnfool police officers are arresting CR pax, there may still be a battle worth fighting (for some civil liberties and freedom of assembly types).

But for cyclists, at least where I am, CR is past its use by date. Cyclists now have the ear of the public service and politians - we are back as part of the estabishment (if considered to be a slightly excentric and sweatly cousin of proper society)
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Thoglette
Critical Mass is important for connecting transportation-minded cyclists. Imagine living in a city of 10 million people and never seeing anyone else on a bike during your commute? Imagine what a relief going to Critical Mass must be! In Los Angeles a massive non-CM centered bike culture has been spawned by people who would have never met w/o CM.

The effectiveness of the message presented by the ride varies massively depending on the group and the locale.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Critical mass was, in it's infancy, a needed process. It's grown beyond that now. It's become a reason for cyclists to run amuck on city streets, disobey all of the traffic laws and create disorder on the street. They do NOTHING to communicate the message intended when CM was first founded. As a cyclist, I find their tactics disgusting and their act tiring. I get the message and ride my bike(s) whenever possible, but since I have a job that requires me to drive, it's what I do during the day. No amount of blocking traffic and flipping me the bird is going to change that fact. In my mind, they are a black eye on the cycling community at large.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter maltese falcon
Co-incidentally, another blog that I regularly visit had a post on the same subject:
http://cycleliciousness.blogspot.com/2007/11/critical-miss-or-critical-mass.html
Reflects my thoughts exactly.
We need to explore ways of winning hearts and minds to get more bums on saddles, not going out of our way to alienate people.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Somersetbiker
In my town, we have been having what amounts to an anti-critical mass for 7+ years now.
http://bikehappening.org/
It's more about the social and fun aspect of riding a bike than about disrupting traffic and taking over the street. In a town of about 45,000 people, there are turnouts over 500 pretty regularly. Naturally, the occasional conflict arises (sometimes the fault of the motorist, sometimes the cyclist), but by and large it's very peaceful and positive (definitely boisterous though). We try to make sure there is room on the street for everyone. (bikes on the right side, cars on the left). Also, no red light running, and no corking of intersections. Sure, it breaks up into smaller groups but, we all regroup in a bank parking lot and go around again. I encourge anyone in the San Luis Obispo Ca. area on the first thursday of each month to come out and join the fun.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter warthog
I like the "wiper blade advert" analogy. I do the same thing to the ads wrapped around the Sunday comics in the Post.

And, it pretty much reflects my attitude toward CM. I've often thought that CM might (maybe) have some positive effect if there was some effort to inform the public of what was going on, as it was happening. But, since that is not the case, it is a useless exercise which only gives ammo to the "get on the sidewalk" folks who associate us all with the CM behavior.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Jon
I actually do look at those flyers, so that I can make a mental note of the organization that left them and make sure I don't ever give them any money.
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter GG
I dig windshield fliers. Delivered on foot, old school effort. Applause. Now, whatever happened to the Fuller Brush man who used to come to my front door?
November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Moveitfred
Dave, this is such a piss poor analogy that's only linked by your distaste for Critical Mass.

To destruct your analogy, a flier under a windshield is annoying because it's so lazy and deceptive. There is nothing personal about the action; it's akin to email spam. It is placed there with little to no energy and with little to no consideration for the person who will inevitably receive it.

There's absolutely nothing lazy and deceptive about Critical Mass. Just because they're both annoying to you does not mean they're analogous.

I first started cycling BECAUSE I saw a Critical Mass swarm an intersection. To me, it was such a beautiful statement of ownership of the road, especially considering how, here in California, we are permitted by law to use a full lane. (Though cars routinely try to deny us that right.)

Critical Mass or not, there will always be a large group of car drivers who hate us (cyclists) and will always scream for us to get on the sidewalk (even though it's actually against our Municipal Code here in LA.)

I ride in Critical Mass rides because I want the city I live in to know that there are not just a few bike stragglers and messengers who ride the streets. I want them to know that there are hundreds of us. And I want them to know we are serious about riding on the road.

I'm sick of all the mass generalizations about group rides, about how they're all bad and rude and uninformative. Come out to a Los Angeles Critical Mass or any of the larger Midnight Ridazz rides. There's always people at stoplights informing cars as to what we're doing. There are always cars honking in support and even LAPD cars to assist us. Just because you had a bad experience with a Critical Mass doesn't mean they all are.
November 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Modern
Easy solution.

Say you sit down in your car and then notice the flyer on the windshield. No prolem.

Open the door, and your should be able to reach around the A-pillar (around the windsheild) from your seat fairly easily. Turn on the windshield wipers, and when the wipers come close to the edge of the windsheild, grab the flyer.
November 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Here in San Francisco (which has the dubious distinction as the birthplace of Critical Mass), the "protest" and "demonstration" aspects of the CM ride have long since been subsumed, leaving a vaguely disorganized ride of self satisfied jerks revelling in their self-righteousness while pissing off just about everyone not in the cadre or in a car.

I've been riding a bike in San Francisco for almost 25 years. And I'm proud that I've never ridden Critical Mass.
November 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
In my area the CM crowd is also part of the unemployed anti-corporate, anti religious, vegetarian enviro-anarchist crowd. Needless to say the represent a very small part of our community. As a self employed, tax paying, car driving, meat eating consumer and avid cyclist I find that I have little in common with these people. I find that the results of their CM events locally have been largely negative and have done nothing to improve motorist-cyclist relations. I believe that responsible cycling behavior and positive advocacy are the best way forward. Pissing people off is just not a productive tactic.
December 13, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
TRAFFIC LAWS and PEOPLE'S GOODWILL are what SUSTAIN ME as a cyclist; the last Critical Mass I went to, a rather small affair (<20 riders), did much to ABUSE THOSE NOTIONS and INFURIATE THE POPULACE. However, I think it is an impressive statement to have a huge swarm of cyclists, just there, proving they exist.
January 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter fridrix

The whole point of the CM ride is not to have a distinct leader. Why should there be one? Just because a group of cyclists bike together we need a leader? Everyday motorists who do not know each other meet up and drive on the road. Is there a distinct leader? That way of thinking already assumes bikes are not meant to be on the road when they are and they share the exact SAME rules as cars.

CM is a very inclusive group of cyclists. It's about sharing what we all believe in and what we have in common; that bicyclists have the same rights as motorists on the road and that we are very much part of traffic. We arenot a nuisance. If a motorist finds a group of cyclists riding together a nuisance and blocking up traffic, then a cyclist can find a group of cars a nuisance blocking up the street as they get stuck in traffic. It goes both ways.

When hundreds of cyclists ride together, that's what you get, a sea of bicycles that are part of traffic. It's very much the same when hundreds of motorists drive on the road, a sea of cars. That's what CM does, it opens the mind of motorists. So I would encourage any fellow cyclists to join a CM ride. It's a great way to meet different people who ride different bikes and for different reasons. And it's fun to bike with others.

April 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
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