It’s tough enough being a student right now—fretting about an uncertain economic future while looking forward to a lifetime of mounting debt—yet somewhere during the creative process for designing a series of ads to promote their new “college discounts,” GM decided that a forced diet of ramen and Natty Light was not quite insulting enough. Belle Gerard, a public health graduate student at UCLA, sent me this ad she saw in yesterday’s Daily Bruin. Yes, GM has decided that it’s okay to make college students feel ashamed for riding bikes, a choice that’s almost certainly better for themselves, their schools and their communities.
The ads suck, but I don’t need to tell you that. The hot chick peering out a car window as a guy on a ten-speed shields his face in embarrassment feels like it’s from a 1982 Billy Ocean video. The tagline—”Stop pedaling…start driving.”—is not going to be winning them any Clios. Plus GM has a whole site focused on its “greener vehicles” that talks plenty about their environmental stewardship. The “stop pedaling” message makes me think, oh, they didn’t really mean all that nice stuff they said about our poor plundered planet.
The same ads seem to have run in college papers across the country, as hundreds of bike advocates have responded to GM via Twitter to express their distaste for the ads. But the interesting thing is that GM seems to be listening:
The GM Twitter team has been working hard in the last 24 hours, making probably a hundred personal @ replies to people who’ve complained. In one, they say this: “We’re making changes to the ads. We created them using student input and didn’t mean any offense.”
I’m sure there are plenty of students who would rather jump in the cab of a $22,000 pickup than ride their bike to school. When I was in college, I would have killed for the freedom to drive myself up into the mountains every weekend instead of relying on a roommate or boyfriend to put me in their passenger seat. The problem is this: GM’s eagerness to lock students—people who have NO MONEY and are about to have A LOT LESS—into 1o-year payment plans with insane interest rates by making them feel bad about using transportation that’s already free and available to them. It’s dirtier than GM’s most inefficient truck. Which may indeed be the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 FINANCING AVAILABLE.
But when a car company publicly apologizes—multiple times—for making an anti-bike ad and promises to change it? Could you have seen that happening five years ago? I think we’re getting somewhere.