Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Would You Promote HSR?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Don't really have time to put together a proper post today, and won't be able to put something up until later tomorrow afternoon. So use this as an open thread, but I would love to hear answers to this question. How would you promote the high speed rail project aka Prop 1 to your fellow Californians? What sorts of campaign appeals would work with you, and what would fall flat? How can we improve the public's awareness of HSR, given that the July Field Poll found 78% of Californians weren't aware of the plan? We have to also consider that the traditional media, particularly the newspapers, will be against us.

Grassroots activists, along with the official campaign, are already working on HSR activism, so I'm not using this as a sly way to drum up ideas. Instead I'm genuinely curious. How do you think we can get Californians to care about high speed rail?


Anonymous said...

Seriously? T-Shirts. Sold for enough to cover cost.

I've been hanging out in the Santa Cruz County United Democratic Campaign offices, helping them set up. As of now, while I strongly support Prop 1, I don't even know how to get a bumper sticker. The campaign site for Prop 1 doesn't help here, BTW. I found it pretty thoroughly lame.

At a minimum, if the campaign has any money at all, MAKE SOME GOOD T-SHIRT DESIGNS. If possible, get shirts made, and sell them. If not, make the graphic available so others can do so.

I know lots of folks who might wear a shirt that said

SuperTrain, M**therF**kers

Yes On 1

If the campaign will do this, the shirts will go viral. I've considered doing this myself, but I lack the graphic design talent to do it. But somebody should, and as soon as possible.

Santa Cruz

Anonymous said...

To add to the T-shirt idea, I would have reasons to vote yes for HSR.

1) Environmentally friendly
2) No arriving 2 hours before
3) Power your electronics while on the go (can't do that with domestic flights)
4) The rest of the world uses the technology, time for us to catch up
5) Competitive with other modes of travel

I would perhaps look at the Oakland expansion option since the Bay Bridge is jammed quite a bit, if that is promoted, more people might vote for it.

Maybe the first segments to be constructed and serviced are San Jose to San Francisco since people like that idea alot. This will put California ahead of the rest of the United States and beat the heck out of the Aclea Express that currently runs.

Spokker said...

T-shirts and bumper stickers are tacky as hell.

What I would do is circulate the concept video around and air bits and pieces of it on TV as November rolls around.

Not sure who is going to pay to air yes on prop 1 commercials but if they did, they would do well to include this footage.

Rafael said...

How you promote obviously depends a great deal on the audience you're trying to reach. An T-shirt might appeal to high school kids and students, provided their peers give the whole HSR idea a thumbs up. Indeed, HSR is a sufficiently concrete idea that some young voters may decide to register just to have their say on prop 1. Getting this demographic into the voting booth at all is always a good thing.

Unfortunately, young voters are also one of the demographic that is most likely to have heard of the HSR project. At last count, some 80% of Californians still know nothing or next to nothing about it.

To reach them, something beyond T-shirts plus CHSRA's web site and animations will be needed. Here are some ideas:

a - spend someone to spend serious money on traditional advertising, especially billboards on highways, at train stations, on buses etc. Siemens, Alstom and other vendors might be willing to participate in an umbrella campaign that shows their sleek products photoshopped into a California scene. The uniting theme? John Lennon's "Imagine all the people..." If the ballot is approved, the advertising dollars spent may be counted toward a private equity stake in the project (some limitations apply).

b - piggyback onto existing avenues for attracting eyeballs, e.g. getting Hollywood celebrities to mention it on air. This worked well for the Prius, but perhaps Toyota paid for the product placement. However, switching from a dirty gas guzzler to a tangible clean fuel sipper is a much smaller step than switching to public transportation that's still a decade away. Plus, celebrities generally consider the Central Valley to be flyover country. Ergo, any HSR publicity effort centered on celebrities would have to focus on its environmental benefits relative to short-haul flights.

c - viral advertising on the web. You only get good word of mouth if the content is short, visually dazzling or else goofy/hilarious and above all, unusual in some way. For example, get actors playing foreign tourists to gather at future HSR stations and ask local passers-by to take a picture of them as they strike weird but funny poses to commemmorate having been there at the very beginning. Make sure they don't speak a word of English, making do with gestures and words like "shinkansen" or "TGV", as appropriate. Only depict foreigners from countries that either have HSR or are getting it. Select footage of locals who co-operate but are completely baffled. Later, use video editing software to composit in sketches of the future stations. The tagline: They can see it happen - do you?

d - an edgy soap opera on the web. This sounds crazy, but most people just care more about other people and their interactions than they do about technology, let along infrastructure. The sly idea here would be to weave the storyline such that all the interesting stuff happens either on the high speed train (ask Spokker for details :-) or else because it exists. All the goodies use public transport and/or ride bicycles, all the baddies drive SUVs and fly. The objective would be to build an audience by releasing new episodes at least twice a week, even if they are only five minutes long. Unfortunately, the election is less than 12 weeks away and even direct-to-youtube projects need a budget and lead time.

Anonymous said...

High speed rail needs a Luminary...someone/s with smarts and money...Gee how about the Google guys!!!

Benjamin said...

One thing I think should be mentioned is the number of jobs the creation and operation of the trains will create. Something like "Vote to keep jobs here in California. Vote yes on 1." It's not really the most compelling feature of high-speed rail, but people who know nothing about it will pay attention.

Andy said...

I'm a software developer for, the biggest online site for selling custom T-Shirts, bumper stickers, yard signs, etc. I've been playing around with sample merchandise for California High Speed Rail for months now, using the high-resolution images from the CHSRA site. If we had the rights to use the images, we could sell shirts like this: or a yard signs:

I think well-designed merchandise, especially yard signs, would be reach all demographics. I'd be happy to help set up such a site, although it's easy for anyone to do. The merchandise could marked-up to raise some money or simply sold at the minimum price.

Brandon in California said...

There is no more than 6 weeks left to get things going. Many voters will vote via absentee ballot. Those are sent to voters in early October. Ideally, any multi-media efforts should be rolled out then.

I like anon 1:12's idea.

Anonymous said...

Ads in airports showing how much cheaper and hassle-free HSR would be.

無名 - wu ming said...

billboard ads along 99 and 5 in the central valley advertising the ETA to LA, sac, or the bay area on the HSR.

honestly, an onslaught of traditional ads in the central valley could decide this thing. plug the ease of travel, plug the air, plug the jobs.

Rob Dawg said...

"21st Century Transportation for
21st Century California"

"A New Golden Spike for the Golden State"

"HSR, it ain't your grandpa's choo-choo."

"Fund CAHSR; Pull out of Iraq two weeks early."

Anonymous said...

How to promote HSR?

The only way I see is to terminate the manifestly corrupt Authority staff and board members who have blantantly put maximization of private profits (= PBQD-instigated and PBQD-lead BART to San Jose project => no non-BART rail project of any type between Fremont and San Jose => environmentally harmful, operationally insane, tunnel(=risk)-maximizaing, and blantantly fiscally unconstrained Pacheco pork trough) ahead of benefit to California taxpayers and ahead of benefit to California's environment and economy.

Make no mistake: by very explicitly telegraphing that COST IS NO OBJECT and that environmental benefit is no consideration in its Bay Area route choice, CHSRA has set itself up to be the mother of all Big Dig-style (not coincidentally, another PBQD/Bechtel-headed corporate welfare program with no concept of cost control) boondoggles, not just in the backyard of San Jose, but every inch of the way from San Jose to Los Angeles.

If you want to promote HSR -- and I really, really, really want to do so --, put forward a plan that has some benefit to other than the people directly on the receiving end of the public cash bonanza.

It's uncomfortable to be sharing a position with know-nothing anti-environmental neaderthals, but a stopped clock is right a couple times a day and all that, and the considered notion that public works ought to be something other than private feeding troughs is one that has some currency across very different political positions.

And vote "NO" until that happens.

Unknown said...

Dont forget WORD of MOUTH. I've brought it up about 50 times in the last 3-4 months to somewhat random people. T-shirts are good for college campuses but arent really a factor in statewide voting unless there are close to a million shirts or something ridiculous like that. Also I invited my California friends on Facebook.

I think our best bet would figure out a way to get HSR in the local news more. It'd be nice if CAHSR could step up their public relations campaign.

Richard -

I dont believe your claims of wanting to support HSR. I think you are assuming too much corruption too soon, and sounding paranoid.

Anonymous said...

We need a High speed rail DOG!!!
A great pooch!! PS..anti prop 1 this is a Promote 1 not a bitch thread!!

Anonymous said...

Some of the deniers sound a little like UFO conspiracy folks...

Tony D. said...

Do you really think the "traditional media" will be against us? Here in the Bay Area, I just don't see the SJ Mercury or SF Chronicle coming out against this. Down south, I'm not sure about the LA Times, but how could they be against it? Since HSR will serve Union Station from the get go. As for promotion, flood TV time with those futuristic renderings from the CHSRA website video gallery. Also sell it as a job creator and stimulus to our economy (which it will be).

Anonymous said...

@ someguy -

I think you mean the HSR deniers sound like the people who deny their is a UFO conspiracy. Our entire government runs on conspiracy, it's the only way they get what they want! Nothing in life is a coincidence, it's just planned! But that's another blog!

Anyway, roadside billboards and TV infomercial should be created and put up ASAP, that's the only way to spread the word fast. T-shirts, as stated before only work for younger people. Bumper stickers are good but they will only be seen by the few who drive behind you. That would have been effective only if it had more time.

bgfa said...

Get out of your cars and ride transit and trains. Push ridership levels to the max. Can't do that? Then move to where you can.

Anonymous said...

Of the ideas I've seen so far, the best has probably been putting up bill boards on high traffic corridors, and in air ports.

But I'd encourage the HSR people to create things that don't need to be pushed from a campaign, but can be pulled by people at the grass roots. This is why T-shirts aren't just good for "high schoolers" -- working folk, especially union people, wear them too. They are a cheap way of getting visibility.

And the folks that are calling bumper stickers and yard signs "tacky": do you have a clue what you're talking about?

Part of what worries me reading this blog is the relative lack of people who know what's worked in other initiative campaigns. A few of you do; but not most of the folks posting. This is not rocket science. But first, learn the boundaries of your ignorance.

Saying this is going to piss a few of you off, but somebody needs to say this and get heard if this initiative is to have any chance of passing.

Robert Cruickshank said...

There are some excellent ideas here, including the ones centered around grassroots activism. If any of you are interested in helping make these a reality, drop me an email.

One thing that these ideas require is money. I'm all for well-placed billboards, bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc, I think those are excellent ideas and I fully agree with the last anon comment that said these are fundamental building blocks of a winning campaign. But to make it happen we need cash.

The "official" campaign has a donation link on the main page of the blog, but they're not likely to spend it on these kinds of projects. We do have another fund folks can donate money to - would there be interest in doing some grassroots fundraising?

andy, can you drop me an email?

Andrew said...

So are the shirts for sale? I am here in Minnesota and would really really like one. California has the best chance of making this happen for the rest of the Nation.
The Billboards sound like a great idea, Not sure how enthusiastic the support from Airports would be for advertising in their terminals, even though the plan has service that would connect all of the major airports correct?
Keep up the great work Robert!!
HSR supporter from the Midwest

Spokker said...

I work in promotions for a radio station and we basically go to public events and set up a booth to publicize the station. Some events like a car show or an air show charge anywhere from $250 to $500 for booth space. We bring a tent if it's not provided.

I've seen this done for high speed rail, but only at the Fullerton Railroad Days, and those people are already voting yes on prop 1. It's a train show, what do you expect? But I think it should be done more often to really reach the people.

Rubber Toe said...

The LA County Fair is coming up September 5th through the 28th. No better place to set up a booth full of promotional material and free bumper stickers.


Gary said...

I agree the L.A. Fair is a golden opportunity to promote via a booth.

I think also getting the support of various people throughout the blogosphere can have a significant impact. Write to various environmental bloggers, transit bloggers, anywhere where it might be relevant and see if they will do a write up on it or be interested in promoting it with a web badge. I write a blog of bicycles, but I also am an ardent supporter for trains since they make the most sense for mass transit over large distances. So I took the graphic from the CAHSR website and cropped it into my own badge with a link back. I thought the site it self would have tools for doing things like that but it did not or I couldn't find them.

We need to get the word out by what ever means possible. I may be interested in donating graphic design talent toward the cause if it is needed. I'm a trained professional with a degree from a graphic design school.

bossyman15 said...

right now i'm promoting HSR by posting about it in some forum that i frequently go to.