Safe cycling TV advertising – Good or bad idea?

We all remember the advert. A child is being filmed by his friend on a camera phone playing around. As he crosses the street he doesn’t look left and a car runs him over. The advert still sends shivers up my spine.

Some will claim the advert is a good and dramatic way to get the message across about crossing the road safely. The opposite camp will argue that the advert places the responsibility on the victim as opposed to the driver. In particular you may argue that with better street design and a stricter speed limit the accident would never have occurred.

Another advert called Think Bike : Think Biker aims to remind people there’s a person behind the motorbike helmet with ambitions, a family and so forth.

Adverts such as these are becoming less common after being subjected to austerity cuts. However, with the growing focus on cyclist safety, should an advertising campaign form part of the solution?

A recent video clip of a cyclist being run over by a Bristol bus driver is evidence of an undercurrent of anger towards cyclists as a group. This is further exacerbated by sensationalist articles in newspapers which go as far as provoking running cyclists off the road.

If the problem lies in peoples’ perception of cyclists, then it could be an opportunity to remind drivers that cyclists are not villains or a faceless inconvenience.

The advert could focus on the person on the bike and the dangers created by careless driving.

Would such an advert be effective? How could funding be raised to create it and buy advertising spots?

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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27 Responses to Safe cycling TV advertising – Good or bad idea?

  1. Ashleigh 05/03/2012 at 9:50 am #

    I think this is a great idea. I also think that having Advertising telling cyclists how to take an assertive road position and showing drivers that no, they aren’t just cycling in the middle of the road to annoy them would also be good. Other useful advertising campaigns would be to alert drivers (in particular HGV drivers) to the dangers of overtaking cyclists too close.

  2. Jozudave 05/03/2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I think you already know I am keen on this idea Andreas! 😉

    But to add my two cents:

    – Showing the person behind the handlebars could be very effective ala the Think! motorcyclist ad.

    – Could also highlight that the majority of cyclists in the UK are also motorists? Many drivers seem to hold the belief that a) cyclists haven’t passed any tests when in fact most have driving licences and b) cyclists don’t pay the fictional “Road Tax” when in fact they do indeed pay vehicle excise duty on their car.

    – There’s a lot to be said for the shock factor of actually showing how seriously cyclists can be injured. This famous seatbelt ad always stayed with me and I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten to belt up since I saw it on tv. Sometimes people need to be shown the potential reality of their irresponsible actions:

    In terms of financing such ads a decent crowdsourced funding campaign could work well?

    I’ve easily spent over £150 in the last year on items that are mainly to improve my safety so it’s not unreasonable to think many cyclists would part with, let’s say, £10, to fund a tv ad campaign if they believed the money/project would be well managed.

    Not sure how others feel about that, but having asked a few cycling friends they all seem to think it would be money well spent.

    • Andreas 06/03/2012 at 12:24 am #

      I do – thanks for being the inspiration for this post. It’s an interesting question and one that doesn’t seem to have been discussed that much.

      I believe the best way to push this forward would be some kind of crowd funding. I’ve no idea how much a campaign like this would cost?

      • Ashleigh 09/03/2012 at 10:52 am #

        What about a campeign funded by someone like the London Cyclist Campeign. Even if it’s not on TV, you can see the effect viral campeigns can have. Any budding film-makers on here?

  3. Big Softy 05/03/2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Regarding the advertising campaign directed at seat belt use: I agree with Jozudave up to a point.
    But that campaign was also supported by legal statute requiring seat belts.
    On it’s own, advertising is mediocre at best. We need to pressure the government into passing legislation to place an onus on drivers to behave in a safer manner by increasing penalties for antisocial and dangerous driving.
    Any campaign needs teeth, persuasion alone is not nearly enough.
    I believe it needs a 2 pronged approach, also targeting the minority of cyclists who ride recklessly. Once we get those riders in line we stand a better chance of being taken as “serious” road users.
    We need regular protest rides causing inconvenience and even peaceful disruption in Westminster and the City until our voice is heard.
    Enough with the polite requests, It’s time we made demands.

    • Andreas 06/03/2012 at 12:31 am #

      It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of the heavy ticketing that is going on currently in New York of cyclists – I don’t know if you’d be able to discourage that behaviour. I think it’s a shame that arguments around cycle safety come back to some of the same often heard ideas – “oh but why do cyclists go through red lights”

      • Big Softy 06/03/2012 at 11:28 am #

        It is a shame Andreas, but unfortunately this minority are what colours other road users perception of cyclists. And the fact that you say it’s often heard highlights this.
        I firmly believe that if we remove this type of criticism about us we stand a greater chance of being taken seriously.
        It may be an over-simplification, but because some of us don’t act like proper road users, all of us get tarred with that brush and subsequently we don’t get treated like proper road users.
        We are the only ones in the position to break that vicious cycle. Getting our own house in order only makes our case stronger.

      • Barton 13/03/2012 at 2:30 pm #

        Interesting about the ticketing in NYC. I am trying to get the cops in downtown Minneapolis (especially the ones on bikes) to start enforcing the rules and ticket drivers/walkers/cyclists instead of just being a body on the street who has a really cool gun (friends with a few of the officers, so that is where I am pushing it). For example, last Saturday while cycling just one city block, I witnessed over 15 infractions by drivers, walkers and cyclists.

        If the rules aren’t enforced, they won’t be followed. If the rules aren’t enforced equitably, then you get an Us v. Them mentality. But the big push is that IF the rules were enforced, our police force wouldn’t have so many budgetary restraints as they’d be making some money! (of course, the downside to that is that a significan percentage of people in my town go to city hall to fight traffic tickets, resulting in loss of productivity as the cops have to attend court, and higher city costs as the court system is spending their time on people contesting silly traffic violations).

  4. idavid 05/03/2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Well, of course advertising helps, because advertising works. But will it happen? Only if someone can join up the dots.

    Apart from the austerity you rightly mention, public bodies are wary of promoting “cyclist as victim”, anticipating a backlash around pavements and red light jumping. Likewise a campaign exhorting cyclists to behave better would be howled down by hard core activists.

    An effective message used in Australia and the USA is “give respect, get respect”, ie Share the Road. Two 30 secs examples here:

    and a third one promoting safe passing:

    These commercials were jointly funded by state govt and sponsors. This stuff carries much more weight if it’s sponsored by motoring brands rather than by cyclists.

    Time to step up Fiat – go large on TV/Cinema – make your innovative “The car that’s happy to behind cyclists” campaign.really fly!

    • Andreas 06/03/2012 at 12:27 am #

      Thanks for sharing those videos – seems like an effective campaign. You make a number of really good points – adverts for cars occasionally feature a token cyclist in there too – would it be too far fetched to see a car manufacturer getting behind the cycle safe campaign?

      • idavid 06/03/2012 at 5:35 am #

        Not far fetched at all. Just a matter of time.

  5. Gaz 05/03/2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I’m currently editing a video which explains a few safety aspects about keeping cyclists safe.

    Let us not forget that there are two sides to every story, a handful of cyclists are silly as well.

    • Andreas 06/03/2012 at 12:28 am #

      Absolutely – an effective advert could reach out to both to show the dangers.

  6. Dantastic 06/03/2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I think it’s a great idea. Changing attitudes is a cheaper, faster and more effective way of protecting cyclists than any amount of infrastructure. The idea of separating bikes from other traffic only reinforces the misconception that bikes don’t belong on the road. Shared space is where it’s at. Just for starters, we should have an advert that explains quite clearly to drivers when and how to safely overtake a bike. The “A Meter Matters” ad above is a start, but it doesn’t emphasise the rights of the cyclist:
    Bikes are entitled to be on the road, and to travel at whatever speed they feel comfortable at.
    Bikes are not obliged to ride in the gutter.
    Bikes are not obliged to let cars overtake.

    It surely can’t be beyond the power of advertising to persuade the majority of drivers to wait a few extra seconds until it is safe to overtake.

  7. Dave 09/03/2012 at 10:40 am #

    I personally would love to see a TV campaign, even if it just showed in the London area. Content-wise, I think it should cover the following two areas which are in my opinion the biggest dangers to cyclists.

    1. Drivers not indicating/ cyclists undertaking dangerously. I so often see either indicating vehicles being undertaken by cyclists, or cars not indicating and almost hitting under/overtaking cyclists. I know we are not supposed to undertake, but sometimes – especially in traffic – it’s difficult to avoid. It would be much better if everyone just thought a bit more about other road users and what they may be doing. Vehicles not indicating particularly irks me as it doesn’t cost anything or require any effort. If you know you are turning, just hit your signal so that cyclists know not to pass you until you have turned.

    2. Pedestrians stepping out without looking. Bikes are quiet and often ride close to the pavement so look over your shoulder before stepping into the road. This is a very personal issue to me as I broke my wrist avoiding a pedestrian that stepped out onto a cycle lane in front of me without looking.

  8. Mike 09/03/2012 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Andreas

    Advertising obviously works – why else would the faceless corporations spend tens of millions of pounds on it?

    Any campaign, ad-based or otherwise , will though attract the usual motorist platitudes of “what about the red-light jumpers” and “why should I worry about someone who cycles on the pavement when he feels like it”, and so the usual circular argument ensues.

    I would be 100% in favour of an ad campaign, but I think it has to be about education – it has to educate motorists about who cyclists are (not just lycra-clad light-jumping wallies but Mums, Dads, kids, nurses, doctors, teachers etc), why they cycle, why they cycle the way and in the road-position that they do, why the idiots are only a small minority, constantly at odds with everyone (inclduing other cyclists) and constantly being weeded out by the application of Darwinism, and how the more cyclists there are, the less cars there are, and the easier life is for everyone, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.

    So probably best not to let a ‘professional’ ad agency in on the act…


  9. Nick 09/03/2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I’d like to see an advert that shows how the fashionable “urban look” can easily get cyclists killed and how, just like in any other hazardous environment, a “hi vis” can be an absolute life saver. There will always be a hardcore who will resent this, with some even going out of their way to ridicule cyclists who want to be seen, so a good hard hitting ad which shows just how invisible cyclists are without a hi vis may help to cut the appalling carnage on London’s dangerous streets. The most effect way, however, is to copy the “accident toll” signs you see on roads. I.E. number of serious injuries wearing hi vis, and number of serious injuries not wearing hi vis, so the difference becomes obvious. More more effective than a tv advert in hammering the message home.

    • Gaz 09/03/2012 at 3:16 pm #

      I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about helmets. They ‘save’ lives afterall!

      Hi-viz isn’t really required to be seen, I use lights on par to those on a motorobike and seem to be doing just fine.

      Rather than finding a work around to the problem (people not seeing us) why don’t we try and fix the problem of people not looking properly!

    • sowerbob 27/07/2012 at 12:16 pm #


      i cycle everywhere if i can and have cycled in london for twenty years. Your comment struck home with me because a couple of years ago i waiting at the bottom of london bridge and 50%+ of cyclists were coming across at 6pm with zero lights. They were invisible, totally.

      it really shook me up and since then I have been far more careful re lights and reflectives. They may not be cool, having said that neither an I!!

      I rely on lights and bit of hi vis during darkness. Having said that in broad daylight I cant really see the point


  10. Nick 09/03/2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Hey Gaz, thanks for your reply.

    Cycle helmets are a separate issue, I guess, Personally, I think that making helmets compulsory would prevent a lot of potential cyclists from getting on their bike in the first place, but it’s a grey area.

    I do understand your point of view about the headlight thing, and out in the countryside a headlight will indeed make you more visible. But in London, when your beam is aimed straight ahead and I’m in my truck 7-8 feet above where your beam is aimed, and with hundreds of other lights flaring in the beads of rain on my mirrors, and the car sitting behind you is fitted with HID headlamps, effectively preventing me from seeing anything at all even if you had the brightest cycle lights? There’s not a chance I’m going to see you, my friend.

    If you genuinely believe that a hi vis makes no difference, my question to you would be, if you saw an ad that actually demonstrated to you just what a staggering difference a hi vis makes, would you start wearing one, or would you cling to the belief that a headlight (in a sea of headlights) is going to save you?

    From a lorry driver’s point of view, you must remember that every second I spend peering into one mirror, trying to make out a dark clad cyclist, a cyclist that believes that a hi vis makes no difference, is a second in which I could easily miss a cyclist in one of my other six mirrors, so even if you dislike the concept of making yourself visible to help me out you’re actually making it more dangerous for other cyclists and pedestrians.

    • Gaz 09/03/2012 at 4:11 pm #

      If everyone starts wearing hi-viz all the time then all you will see is hiviz, how will you pick out who is who and what is what?

      I’ll start wearing h-viz when cars are painted in it, untill that point then I see no need to cover my self in clothing that is not designed for the activity I am doing (hi-viz jackets are genreally made from materials that are far too thick, heavy and does not breath.)

  11. Nick 09/03/2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Gaz, I agree that some hi viz clothing can be sweaty. I use three sizes of the standard vest you can buy anywhere for a couple of quid, to cater for whatever many layers of clothingI’m wearing at the time, so the hi viz doesn’t flap about. But there are plenty of hi viz garments specifically made for cycling. If you sweat a lot then you can buy a hi viz that is made out of a sort of mesh, or go upmarket an get a Gortex hi viz jacket.

    It just worries me that even experienced cyclists think they are safe with just a headlight, because they haven’t ever seen things from a driver’s perspective. And that can get people killed.

    At the end of the day, I’m not arguing for compulsion, that would be just as bad as compulsory hemets, all I’m suggesting is that people are shown just how invisible they are if they don’t wear hi viz clothing and let them make their own minds up.

    The best thing to do, if you’re determined to avoid making yourself visible, is to assume that the driver is less likely to see you and ride with that thought constantly in your mind.

    • Gaz 09/03/2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Perhaps you should look at these photos

      The last one being the only one with full beams on. Reflectives on a jacket at night are no where near as useful as reflectives on the legs. Hi-viz is not the be all and end of being seen. If you can only seen people who are wearing Hi-viz, then perhaps you should get your eyes checked, espcially if you drive for a living.

      • Nick 09/03/2012 at 10:02 pm #

        Gaz, I’m not saying a hi viz is the be all and end all. I’m just saying that it helps massively to make a cyclist more visible, especially during the day when lights aren’t generally being used.

        As far as getting my eyes checked, we have compulsory medicals regularly, that include eye tests, whereas other road users (including cyclists) don’t. It’s all about cognitive recognition at the limits of human ability. What you’ve got to remember is that a lorry driver only glances very briefly at seven mirrors and three windows, otherwise the situation changes too much before the start of the next “sweep”. It’s a bit like playing a computer game using ten different screens whilst moving, you only see some stuff in your peripheral vision. Even jet fighter pilots can’t guarantee to be able to see everything.

        And as far as reflectives are concerned, cyclists have to remember that they only work if the car or lorry is directly behind the cyclist (the angle of incidence must be close to 90 degrees). Whereas hi viz clothing gives 360 degree visibility where there is either daylight or ambient light at night, ie in town.

        Gaz, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this topic, but I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that you stay lucky every time you’re out on your bike, because there are some very bad lorry drives out there and you will never know if the next driver you meet is one of the bad ones.

        That is all.

        • Gaz 09/03/2012 at 10:10 pm #

          I don’t think there is anything to disagree on in the end. Only your initial comment which came across as ‘Cyclists must wear hi-viz all the time’ which isn’t really positive or in the spirit of this article.

          In the end, we both know the limitations of any ‘safety’ equipment and that there are some bad road users on the road. Hi-viz won’t stop any driver from hitting you if that is what he wishes. Looking like a cyclist how ever, may get you ‘treated’ like one 😉

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