Bike for Brussels, The Earworm of the Day 

In this week’s highlight from the Contagious I/O platform, a public body uses earworms to get a safety message through to cyclists.

Bike for Brussels, a Belgian public body dedicated to encouraging cycling in the city, is using catchy pop songs to promote road safety.

The organisation reminded cyclists not to wear headphones while riding by partnering with local radio station Bruzz to broadcast a daily segment called The Earworm of the Day, which exclusively played unforgettable and repetitive pop songs.

The idea was that the irritatingly catchy songs would get stuck in the heads of cyclists, negating the need to listen to music through headphones, which can reduce riders’ awareness of their surroundings.

To promote the campaign, which was created with Brussels creative agency Mortierbrigade, Bike for Brussels also distributed throughout the city posters with the lyrics of popular earworms, such as Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs and Blue [Da Ba Dee] by Eiffel 65, and published a Spotify playlist containing all the tracks.

Bike for Brussels is an initiative of Bruxelles Mobilité, which is part of the Brussels-Capital Region administration.

Contagious Insight 

Fingers in their ears / People seem hardwired to ignore safety warnings. In a study conducted by Mark Lehto, a professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University in the US, just one out of 54 subjects took heed of a glue bottle warning to use it only in a ventilated room. He concludes: ‘If someone’s main goal is to complete a task, the benefits he perceives in finishing may outweigh the risks of skipping a safety step. Similarly, if someone’s out to have a good time, the benefits he sees in having fun may outweigh the risks he sees…’

In the same vein, there exists a concept called ‘habituation’ that describes people’s habit of paying less attention to certain warnings the more they encounter them.

A different path / Basically, people are less likely to adhere to a warning if it interferes with something they enjoy (or inhibits their performance) and they are more likely to ignore a warning if they’ve heard it before.

Bike for Brussels’ cycle-safety message therefore was likely to have a hard time getting through since it interferes with the riders’ enjoyment and is likely something they will have heard a hundred times before.

But The Earworm of the Day engages its target audience with a novel, indirect message. Even if cyclists have been told a thousand times before that it’s dangerous to wear headphones, they are almost certain not to expect a message delivered like this. What’s more, the campaign attempts to remove a barrier to adopting a safer behaviour by offering an alternative to headphones. Although, admittedly, this is done in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

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