How advertising can be a catalyst for cultural change

Ariel Madway
Five people sit on a stage, with brightly-colored lights and shapes behind them.

When you think about combating global crises like climate change, you probably don’t think of advertising as the solution. But advertising plays a bigger role than you may think.

We saw this impact demonstrated during Advertising Week Europe, where Zappi brought together a panel of leaders within the cycling industry to take the mic on the ‘Culture and voices’ stage.

In the session, the panel showcased how advertising has the ability to create cultural change and shared some tips on how you can find out if your ad will be effective. Read on for a few of the key learnings.

A challenge for the cycling industry

Climate change is at the forefront of many of our minds. In recent years, there’s been a steady uptick in campaigns focused around sustainability, alternative energy sources and electric vehicles. One industry that should be at the forefront of this discussion, but has had trouble solidifying its seat at the table, is the cycling industry.

Mass motoring relegated the bike, once the most popular form of transport, to a niche sporting vehicle or children’s toy. Now, bikes have their opportunity for a comeback as a machine that fights climate change. However, particularly in the UK, poor public opinion and opposition from motorists who don’t want to share the road is making it difficult for the cycling industry to make meaningful change.

With the help of advertising, cycling brands are working to flip the narrative (and smash negative stereotypes) in order to show consumers the positive environmental impact cycling can create.

Creating the right content for change

Knowing whether your advertising will be effective is challenging. Creating cultural change requires changing the minds of the masses – that’s challenging too.

In order to have an impact strong enough to rewrite an existing narrative, your ad needs to be bold enough to cut through the clutter, tell a compelling story and resonate deeply with its target audience. And the wrong ad can do even more harm than not having any ad at all.

But having the wrong ad is avoidable. If you understand who your audience is, you can get feedback from a representative group of customers in its early stages to avoid the risk of it not landing.

Example 1: Bike is Best finds the right tagline

For Adam Tranter, Founder and CEO of Fusion Media; Will Brompton, CEO of Brompton; Michelle Brideau, Founder and CEO of One Less Car; and Temi Lateef, Founder of My Choice, the struggle is not only how to advertise a product, it’s how to advertise an idea: The idea that cycling is for everyone.

If this isn’t the moment to take some risks, then what is? There are people out there who don’t know we even exist; who don’t know a little bike can change their life. We need to tell stories and break down fear because people think cycling is terrifying and it isn’t.

Will Butler-Adams

Bike is Best, an industry organization supported by Brompton and other cycle brands, created a new campaign with agency partner Fusion Media that challenges the current cultural perceptions that cycling isn’t for everyone.

The cycling industry is behind in modern advertising, so when we created Bike is Best we wanted to do things differently to talk to new audiences: The people who would switch to bikes.

Adam Tranter

Before launching the Bike is Best advertisement, Fusion Media needed to determine how to reach these people who might switch to cycling, but aren’t quite there yet.

Fusion Media chose to work with Zappi to get feedback on creative to find out which taglines were most appealing to their target audience. They found certain lines tested more strongly among specific demographics than others; but, the leading takeaway across the board was: “If we can, you can.”

Through the research it became clear that while approximately 90% of adults in the UK can ride a bike, many don’t because they think cycling isn’t for people like them. So, how does the cycling industry convince this cohort to switch to the bike for short journeys? They learned they need to include people who look like them, sound like them and can talk directly to them in advertisements.

Using the information garnered from its research, Fusion Media created an ad that did just that, using the taglines that performed best in the script.

Example 2: One Less Car uses the voice of the consumer

For Michelle, smashing the stereotypes surrounding women cycling is at the crux of her mission.

Michelle opened One Less Car because she saw a gap in the market for bike shops catering to people like her, a female cyclist. Her vision was to create a place where she would comfortably shop and be able to easily access a variety of options to meet her needs.

But filling a gap in the market isn’t as easy as just setting up shop. She needed to get One Less Car in front of her target audience: Female cyclists looking for a place to shop like she was, as well as other females who hadn’t yet taken up cycling because they felt there wasn’t a place for them in the cycling world.

To do this, Michelle tested images with a wide audience and filtered her results down to specific niches to see which images resonated best across each age group. She then looked to the verbatims to see in their own words why certain images resonated better among respondents. Those verbatims also gave her inspiration for the creation of the next iteration of her ads.

With Zappi, I had the data to make a decision I felt ill equipped to make otherwise and was able to make better use of my ad spend.

Michelle Brideau

As a sole founder of a startup strapped for time and money, being able to test ads before putting them into the world was crucial to ensuring she didn’t make a misstep.

Wrapping up

For all four creators on the panel, their research validated their initial ideas as well as inspired new ones that would directly speak to their target audiences and spark the necessary conversations to start spinning the wheels of change.

When advertising reflects the world we live in, advertising creates conversation, conversation creates community and community creates change.

Temi Lateef

When you have something to say, you should be mindful of how you convey your message.

Whether you’re attempting to create cultural change or create an appealing new product to consumers, getting consumer feedback on your ads will help you to be bold and break through the noise, while minimizing the risk to your brand and your campaign’s success.

Learn more about how Zappi can help you create ads that people love in our latest guide.