How To Sell Vision Zero Like a Car

Tom Flood explains what the Vision Zero movement can learn from car commercials.


Tom Flood

Vision Zero is "the Swedish approach to road safety thinking. It can be summarized in one sentence: No loss of life is acceptable." It has been a tough sell on this side of the ocean; I was interviewed by Laura Laker of The Guardian about it:

“'Everybody picks and chooses what they want, and in the end it isn’t Vision Zero at all,' Alter says. He believes Vision Zero needs stronger wording similar to the Stop de Kindermoord movement in 1970s Dutch cities. 'We should rename it ‘Stop Murdering Our Kids’: make it real and make it something much stronger, because it’s just lost its meaning,' he says. 'When it came over from Sweden it was a plan, it was things that we did, now it’s just a cliché.'”

A key point in the original Vision Zero is "making errors part of the equation: in every situation, a person must fail – the road system should not. This is the core principle of vision zero." That means fixing the roads, slowing down cars, making streets safe for people who bike and walk.

There are many activists and advocates fighting for safer streets; Tom Flood is one of them, using creativity and humor. I have been following him on Twitter for some time, and after enjoying a recent piece comparing how cars are marketed to the way people talk about cyclists, I contacted Tom to learn more; he tells Treehugger that he used to be in marketing.

We all make sacrifices
We all make sacrifices.

Tom Flood

"I worked in the ad world for quite a while and on auto accounts in Toronto – then exited for a long time when my kids were born. This site and bike work is more an outlet for my frustrations but people have been asking about it and then TransAlt asked me to produce some stuff earlier this year for them, and it just keeps kind of rolling. I still do marketing work as a regular gig too."
Strong Enough
Strong Enough.

Tom Flood

It's powerful stuff, ads and videos. Flood wrote a great article for Transportation Alternatives, explaining how "The Vision Zero movement could learn a lot from the marketing practices of the auto industry. As we seek to transform streets and drive traffic deaths down to zero, we can take cues from how cars are sold." He notes that many car ads have kids in them, and sell a vision of safety inside. The voiceover in a Hyundai ad says  “Nothing is more important than family, especially in uncertain times.” He says we have to do the same with bikes, "This is why re-humanizing people on bikes, and really anyone that is not in a car, is the priority." He tried it out in a commercial here, making an emotional connection:

"You can see examples of the techniques discussed in this article in the above – titled “Forgotten” – which had a goal of inspiring people to reconnect with their forgotten bicycles. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when traffic was down and streets were being opened up, safe cycling became a real option for so many, including those who had not ridden a bicycle in a long time."

Tom Flood

There are a lot of images of pickup trucks, a subject dear to this Treehugger's heart; these deadly designs that kill at three times the rate of conventional cars. Flood tells Treehugger that "truck size is a constant motivator"

Always, the kids. Tom Flood writes:

"We have the power to help adults rediscover their childhood relationship with their streets, and inspire them to act for their children, to help take back what is rightfully theirs. With effective communications, we can bring even more people into the movement."

And of course, it's brought to you by the All-Powerful Bicycle Lobby. See more of Tom Flood's work at Rovélo Creative.