Portland Bike and Marketing Freak Out

Local web analytics powerhouse WebTrends recently rolled out a new transit ad campaign to demonstrate their ability to measure offline and online sentiment and conversation using the question, “should cyclists pay a road tax?” Kablooie. Cyclist meltdown and freakout.

The WebTrends transit ad that has Portland's bike community in a tizzy.

The WebTrends transit ad that has Portland's bike community in a tizzy.

I’d chalk this campaign up as a “near miss.” WebTrends did a great job of getting the publicity and stirring up conversation. In terms of awareness, that’s a win. But I think it ultimately failed, not because of the topic or the transit ads, but because ironically their interactive pay-off doesn’t let people experience the product they want to sell.

First, some background for anyone not in town. Cycling is the third-rail in Portland: touch it and die. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland has as much power as the National Rifle Association  in Texas. And possibly unintentionally, the cycling community has focused its vitriol on WebTrends rather than the topic because, as BikePortland.org publisher Jonathan Maus states:

The problem is that the question has (yet again) been posed in a discriminatory and unbalanced way. It plays into the idea that there are two classes of people, “cyclists” and “motorists,” and that “cyclists” are somehow getting a free ride and don’t deserve to be on the roads.

And here’s why it failed: The promise of web metrics like WebTrends is that, unlike traditional methods for measuring sentiment and effectiveness (polls, surveys, retail sales), a business or political group doesn’t need to wait days or weeks for their data. It’s online. You can pull your data twice a day.

However, the fact that WebTrends makes everyone wait until August or September for results seems to discredit their claim of being so advanced.

Imagine if this interactive experience provided daily dashboard of sentiment that let people use all the WebTrends tools to create their own analysis of this topic.

In the absence of data (though I know the BTA and others have provided plenty), people make assumptions, use their own bias, and appeal to emotion. But if WebTrends was posting real-time or daily measurements about the topic, the company would remove themselves from the conversation and put the focus on their new (very cool) tool and the topic.

I don’t know WebTrends’ tolerance for public outcry, so it’s possible they wanted the stunt value. It’s possible they wanted to be a part of the conversation, and not merely take part in the conversation. It’s also possible that by withholding the data and analysis, they’re building anticipation for a big release sure to garner more publicity.

However, I think they’d be smart to release only the data and a simple version of the tool that will allow people to explore the reaction and the data. They should remove themselves from the analysis — making judgment calls and recommending action based on WebTrends data is the domain of their customers.

5 Comments on Portland Bike and Marketing Freak Out

  1. Great thoughts here Thom.

    We expected lively interaction and conversation, but not the volume we’re seeing. This conversation already spans over a dozen sites and has generated almost a 1,000 comments in about 24 hours. So, we agree that the interest in this conversation warrants moving faster on releasing updates about the conversation. We already have a meeting on Monday about how to make regular releases of the data. And, as was always the plan, the data will be reported without judgement.

  2. Thanks, Justins!

    I wish you luck with pushing the data out there.

    Sears didn’t mine for gold, but made bank selling the tools and equipment needed during the gold rush. WebTrends can provide tools that let people dig for their own conclusions in the data rush.

    Wow. That was a tortured metaphor…

  3. Just want to clarify that BikePortland and the BTA are not related in any way. BikePortland is an independent source for news and commentary while the BTA is a non-profit advocacy group. Also, the BTA has kot yet weighed in on this issue. Thanks.

  4. My former colleagues over at Pop Art have a great response to the Webtrends MAX (train) wrap ad. http://bit.ly/y0t33 (@thomschoenborn)

  5. I thought I was the only one drawing a parallel between the power of the NRA & the BTA/Bicyclists. Great post Thom!