A view from Dave Trott
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott

Potholes are a real drag for motorists; they ruin your tyres and your suspension.

For pedestrians, they fill up with rainwater, so you get splashed.

But probably worst of all is for cyclists.

They can destroy your bike’s front wheel, you can land face first on the gravel, you can even end up under a lorry.

Everywhere, potholes are a problem; everywhere, councils ignore them.

Sure, they’ll fix them, eventually, when they get around to it.

Which usually means months, sometimes a year, later.

One cyclist in Bury decided to elevate potholes up the council’s list of priorities.

He knew the council couldn’t be bothered about potholes.

But the council was red-hot on covering up graffiti.

Graffiti left on display was like advertising that the council wasn’t doing its job.

It was very visible so it was covered up immediately.

He decided to use graffiti to solve the pothole problem.

Wherever there was a large pothole in the road, he sprayed a set of genitals round it.

Badly drawn – just balls and a knob, crude in every way.

But, suddenly, the pothole stood out.

Suddenly, the potholes, which had previously been invisible to the council, were seen to be outraging public decency.

The potholes, which had been ignored for months, were repaired and the graffiti removed within 48 hours.

Being visible, being impactful, is the most important part of any communication designed to change behaviour

Because the council couldn’t have crude graffiti on display.

He signed his graffiti WANKSY.

And what he did worked.

Isn’t it amazing that the potholes, which were a threat to human life, could safely be ignored because they weren’t highly visible but the graffiti, which was only a threat to human decency, had to be removed immediately?

The graffiti was much more urgent than the potholes had been.

All because the graffiti was more visible.

So he used that visibility to bring attention to the problem.

In fact, he brought so much attention to the problem, he even has his own fan page on Facebook.

People from as far away as Chicago and New York are thinking of copying him.

Even The Sun carried his story, under the headline: "SILLY BILLY’S ART-WILLIES HELP FILL IN POTHOLES."

Of course, the council hates what he’s doing.

But the potholes are filled in, and potentially lives are being saved.

Which is a great lesson for all of us.

What gets action is what gets attention.

What gets attention is what gets seen.

So being visible, being impactful, is the most important part of any communication designed to change behaviour.

Can we think of any other sort of communication where that might be relevant?

That’s right, it’s called advertising.

Most advertising works like the potholes before the graffiti.

It doesn’t upset anyone, it doesn’t call attention to anything, it avoids any hint of controversy, it’s bland and safe.

Which is why most advertising doesn’t work.

It doesn’t change behaviour because it doesn’t even get noticed.

It can safely be ignored.

As they say in New York: "It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil."

Dave Trott’s next book, One Plus One Equals Three, is published on 4 June