Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, ee-lee-min-ate the negative

“Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.”

From Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry, 1973.


[tw_dropcap]W[/tw_dropcap]hy am I writing Bike Boom? Listen to Jack Thurston’s The Bike Show. I may have said “stay positive, keep pushing” more than once. This is not to say Bike Boom will be happy, clappy, everything’s rosy – it will be gritty, realistic and always factual. But if planners and politicians are to “buy” in to cycling we can’t just give them messages of doom and gloom. We won’t get meaningful amounts of bicycle infrastructure by saying how dreadful cycling is, and how the modal share is pitifully low. Pity won’t bring cycleways. (Nor will optimism alone, of course, and there are times when protesting is right and proper – what’s almost certain to bring about diddly-squat is unrelenting pessimism.)

Getting new people to use bicycles for everyday, normal journeys will require more than infrastructure. It’s important to campaign for safer streets but if we demonise the use of bicycles on the unreconstructed streets of Britain and America – and everywhere else that’s not the Netherlands – we risk pushing away, for ever, the very people we could be attracting. Undoubtedly, some of the £1bn promised for cycling in London came about because of negative campaigning but it mostly came about because more people are cycling in London, despite the dangers. Dangers which are real on far too many roads, and, clearly, the fear of having to mix with distracted/speeding motorists is a huge deterrent to cycling, but not every road is like that and it’s counter-productive to claim that every single road is a death-trap.

Cycle advocates must never stop arguing for better and safer facilities for cyclists (for sure, they’re needed) but advertisers and marketers have known for a very long time that positive messages far far out-sell negative ones. In his classic 1923 book, Scientific Advertising, advertising guru Claude Hopkins, wrote:

“Show a bright side, the happy and attractive side, not the dark and uninviting side of things. Show beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness. Don’t show the wrinkles you propose to remove, but the face as it will appear. Your customers know all about wrinkles.

“We are attracted by sunshine, beauty, happiness, health, success. Then point the way to them, not the way out of the opposite. Picture envied people, not the envious. Tell people what to do, not what to avoid.

“Compare the results of two ads, one negative, one positive. One presenting the dark side, one the bright side. One warning, the other inviting. You will be surprised. You will find that the positive ad out pulls the other four to one.”


The Kickstarter for Bike Boom runs until March 17th. Please consider pledging for first-edition rewards and more.


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