The Role of Containers, Hacks, Frames and Metaphors in Social Change

You may have a great solution to a social challenge. Something that you are certain will be beneficial to thousands, maybe more. However, unless you have the right container, package, framing or metaphor your proven innovation may linger in isolation or disregard.

The right container for your content makes it easier for people to recognize your message and to change their behaviour. It converts the complex into the vernacular. It stops them in their tracks, making it easier for them to do the right thing. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “The medium is the message.”

Here’s a great example.

More than 25% of the bikes shipped by the Dutch bike manufacturer VanMoof were damaged during the shipping process, particularly to US destinations. 

Their precious cargo, their pride and joy, their high end commuter bikes looked “like they’d been through a metal-munching combine harvester.” Since their business model was to reduce price by cutting out the retailer and shipping directly, their plan to grow from a tiny Amsterdam bike-maker to a global city-cycling company was being derailed. (Couldn’t resist that pun.)

Their solution was to rethink the packaging. They asked themselves what Americans really love to do. Their answer, watching tv. Since a bike box is roughly the same size as a big screen tv, they began printing a graphic of a flatscreen tv on the side of the box. The bike image remained except it was placed inside the  picture of the tv screen.

The result – shippers, couriers and posties began handling the content with more care. Which led to an 80% drop in damage. In fact so successful was their new container that they began marketing the box as a product itself. A “perfect box for every bike in disguise.” 

Cheeky eh? Ironic too. And a fundamental lesson for change makers. To quote McLuhan again, “It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behaviour.”

In a Medium post, Bex Rad, Creative Director at VanMoof concluded, “… this bike box hack has got us thinking about the power of small tweaks with disproportionate impact.” They are wondering if that approach can be used to make cities safer for cyclists and to put bike thieves out of business.

Finding the right container, literal or figurative, for your content increase the odds that your ideas, solutions and innovations get the pedalling power they deserve. (Maybe I should have resisted that one.)


We have to blue box-i-tize our innovations, or they won’t have widespread impact. ~ Mike Harcourt, former Premier of BC

Musical selection this post is Home for a Rest by a “container” of Canadian musicians who have 75 Junos among them. It’s a benefit video for John Mann the lead singer and vital force of Spirit of the West. John has early onset Alzheimer’s and his musical friends are helping him out, plus raising awareness about dementia. The concert includes Sarah McLachlan, Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall and his son Dustin, Jim Byrnes, Colin James, the immensely talented Kendel Carson, Shari Ulrich, Alan Doyle and Ed Robertson. I’m told they used the men’s washroom at the Commodore as a makeshift studio for this recording.


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