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Some say 'no excuse' for Boston's new bike helmet campaign

Some critics say they are turned off by some graphic new posters meant to warn Boston cyclists about the dangers of not wearing a helmet, but health officials say the ads get an important message across.

A safety campaign launched last week by the Boston Public Health Commission has turned a few stomachs across the Hub lately, and while critics say scare tactics are at play, officials contend that the end justifies the means.

The commission recently planted about two dozen posters at Boston bus stations and other public spaces that show the bloodied faces of people who, apparently, did not wear his helmets. One photograph shows a man wiping blood from his scraped face, and comes with the caption, "Still think it's the helmet that's unattractive? There are no good excuses."

Another shows a man with open, bloody gashes on his face, with a caption: "And you think a helmet is uncomfortable?" A third poster is more mild, and shows a woman wearing w banged up helmet with minor scratches on her face, and has the caption: "Not thinking about helmet hair now, are you?"

Bostonbiker.org, a local bicyclist blog, slammed the ad campaign for what it considered to be violent imagery.

"That is some seriously heavy imagery, not the least of which because (it is) a young black man with a bloody face posted in area of town heavily trafficked by young black people.This is some seriously violent imagery for a public safety campaign," wrote the blog's author.

The health commission has defended its campaign, saying its purpose is to get residents "to think and talk more about cycling safety."

"After all, bike riding is not dangerous – falling off a bike without a helmet is dangerous," said Dr. Huy Nguyen, a medical director at the commission.

Nguyen also told Metro that helmet use in Boston remains low.

"Getting all riders to wear helmets is the next step in insuring that residents can enjoy the health rewards of biking," he said.

Randy Harrison, a marketing consultant and part-time faculty member at the Department of Marketing at Emerson College, agrees with critics that the ad campaign misses its mark.

"I think when people see things like that they turn away. If they want to frighten people because they think fear will motivate people to alter their, behavior, I think that is misguided," Harrison said.

A better way to get cyclists on board with the helmet push would be to use a metaphor, similar to the iconic "This is your brain on drugs" fried egg commercial launched in 1987.

"That was a metaphor that created a real conversation (about drugs.) The fact that we are talking about whether this (helmet) campaign went over the edge; that is not the outcome they wanted."

[View the story "Crossing the line?" on Storify]

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