Saturday, June 6, 2015

Classic Reads: Don Quixote Goes Nuts ... and for the Jugular of Laughter

Don Quixote became one of the greatest novels of all time even though Cervantes intended it to just be a bit of a joke about the over-the-top romanticism of his time.

The foolish knight was a touchstone of impractical idealism, but he is now largely perceived as a symbol of nobility. It's difficult to dislike Quixote because everyone else in the story seems insane and he is so sincere. Starting as simply a Spanish country gentleman, he is addicted to reading about books of chivalry. He does not sleep much, however, and it soon dries his brain up and makes him go mad.

He constructs a suit of armor in his house and he finds a dilapidated old nag to become his horse. He claims at that point that he will be known as Don Quixote rather than his given name of Alonso Quejana.

Before taking off to roam the world to right wrongs, he chooses country girl Aldonza - who is well-known for her method of salting pork - as his great love. His first stop on the road is an inn that he imagines to be an enchanted castle.

Back home, several men decide they will chase Quixote to cure him of his madness. They also burn his books. The men capture him and beat him up. Quixote returns home and finds a barber name Sancho to become his squire.

In the presence of others, Quixote usually embarks on long-winded dissertations that his listeners find either hilarious or annoying. After countless adventures, the pair returns home. They learn later that a best-selling book has been written about their adventures.

As Quixote dies at the end, he denounces the books he had read. Finally settling on a belief that nonsensical stories are a bad thing, he appears to be sane.

It's one of the best endings of a book ever, and is perhaps history's most hilarious adventure story.

***** out of *****

A Playbook for Persuading People to Use Public Transportation

This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.

The art of persuasion was on display in two sessions at the end of the Center for Transportation Excellence conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this week.

When attempting to convince someone to try something new – such as transportation alternatives to driving – arguing facts simply won’t work and usually makes the situation worse, according to keynote speaker Christopher Graves, the global chair of Ogilvy Public Relations.

“Decision-making is emotional. Without emotion, humans simply cannot arrive at a decision,” Graves said. “When people are told, or read, that they are wrong, they feel actual physical pain.”

Other keys to influencing decision-making, according to Graves, include:

  • Using myths is a bad idea. It often backfires, inadvertently popularizing the myth for people who had never heard it in the first place and repeating it for people who naturally tend to believe things the more they hear them. He showed a video of a conflicted father dealing with his daughter’s same-sex marriage, suggesting that this would be much more effective in potentially changing opinions than a website detailing myths versus facts.
  • Affirmation works really well, but we don’t use it enough. Try to relate to your opponents (for instance, saying things like “I know you love your family” and “I know you hate traffic” before jumping in with what you know will be combative). Graves added, “Affirm them as a human first, and you have a little bit of an edge. Nobody confirms anymore, everyone is already an idiot.”
  • Narrative fiction tends to be more effective than lectures, PowerPoints, pamphlets, and other types of communication. “People feel it’s not a blatant attempt to change their mind,” he said, noting that test subjects who read about a soccer hooligan as the main character in a story actually related and tried to be more like that “dumb” character, with their test scores going down compared to before ready the hooligan’s story.
  • Use concrete rather than abstract concepts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently was charged with getting people to understand the unhealthiness of movie popcorn. It held a press conference at a theater and showed what the massive amount of fat found in a bucket of popcorm would equal in terms of a person’s daily diet. It roughly equals bacon and eggs, cheeseburgers, steaks, deserts. It’s the equivalent of a disgusting amount of greasy, unhealthy junk. And it was never more clear how bad moviegoers had been treating their bodies all those years.

He finished by noting that consumers are smart. “They’ll get it” if it’s explained well to them. To create a true movement, Graves said:

  • an issue has to be real and immediate
  • has to be something people can relate to, and
  • has to have a foreseeable outcome or result.

“The most important thing is to get on message and stay on message. If you have too many messages, you really have no messages at all,” said Mike Zuhl, R&R Partners’ government and public-affairs director, in a separate session at the conference.

His group has worked on several transit campaigns, including one that began with the Utah Transit Authority and has been effective in other places as well, with an overall message of “even if you don’t ride it, you use it.”

“There may not be a better message than anywhere in the country. You can create messaging in a communications plan by coming up with about 50 different ways to use that one message.”

Other tactical recommendations made by Zuhl and Parks included:

  • Get others in the community to step up with your messages. The spokespeople should not be political or transportation officials, but rather respected leaders in the community.
  • Use social and non-traditional media. R&R wrapped up a store to look like a train, which was a “wonderful way to promote transit” and also ran a campaign to have local bands in Phoenix write songs about transportation.
  • Start small when it comes to infrastructure projects, like in Charlotte and Orlando. When a handful of people start riding a system, it becomes real and has a better chance at long-term success.
  • Create a neighborhood plan with grass-roots outreach. Have people ride around in a “Scooby Doo-like van” educating people about what’s in it for them, and include yard signs and t-shirts in the plan.
  • Know your opponents and be ready for them. While you shouldn’t get into back-and-forth arguments, you also shouldn’t be so shy and nice. Parks said, “Staying above the fray won’t work. If something is true most of the time, we can run with it. It’s all about sound bites and people’s short-attention spans. The other side goes with stuff all the time that has zero basis in fact. If something is true 80 percent of the time, it’s worth using.” Also watch the Merchants of Doubt documentary. Repeat to the news media that this is how your opponents operate and that the 10 things they’re saying are not true. This also helps you avoid calling them names.

For more ideas of how to tell better stories that persuade people about the immense value of public transportation, we like the American Public Transportation Association’s Voices for Public Transit reference site. And, of course, our own archive of marketing and communications resources isn’t half-bad either.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Taking Grand Rapids By Bike, Bus, and Beer

I flew in late Sunday night for a quick few days in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Center for Transportation Excellence conference on how to do better outreach for transit policy.

My presentation on "Telling Better Stories About Public Transportation" went well and I got lots of nice compliments and thanks for suggesting ways for the industry to improve in this area.

I didn't get much free time, but I was able to tour the city by bike for $15 for a couple hours, thanks to the Central District Cyclery.

I took a nice, easy ride is out of downtown and up Cherry Street to the popular neighborhoods of East Hills and Eastown. Then it was back to south of downtown to The Rapid bus station and across the river around the Gerald Ford Museum.

Ford is the most famous person from Grand Rapids (with boxer Floyd Mayweather, Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis, and Al Green ranking not far behind). Signs of Ford are everywhere, from the name of the international airport to the Ford Museum, where he and Betty are buried.

My meal last night was at a place called HopCat (bathroom art pictured) that the respected Beer Advocate calls the third-best beer bar in the world. They had "Crack Fries" and draft Founders beer, which is one of my favorites and is brewed here in this metro area of 1 million people (the country's 52nd-biggest metro area)! In fact, it's the biggest city behind Detroit in Michigan.

Some other Grand Rapids' facts. The city loves its nicknames. It goes by Beer City USA, Furniture City, and River City, named after the rapid-flowing afore-mentioned Grand River that runs past my Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (dedicated to all the Amway employees of the world!).

The hotel (pictured behind me and my bike helmet) is a grand dame, having once been ranked one of the world's finest hotels. It's massive and confusing and my room is very Mad Men-era feeling.

A few other things to recommend about Grand Rapids:

  • it has one of the best comic-book stores I've ever seen, called Vault of Midnight
  • some of the murals around town are great, and 
  • the swing-dancing club that filled the city square with college kids one evening.