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.