GM backpedals on anti-bike ad

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.

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  • http://twitter.com/mezay Mizée

    nice conclusion.  I agree.

  • http://garyridesbikes.blogspot.com/ Gary Kavanagh

    It was amazing how quickly that all went from release, to twitter storm (I took part in a little of the storming), to ad campaign will be changed and mass apologies going out over the GM twitter account. The times are changing :)

  • Alissa

    I love it. Maybe it’s not just car culture that’s changing, but also the way that bikers can organize and “storm” when an ad like this runs! Nice work!

  • http://twitter.com/planbike Jody Brooks

    In the end, GM was just being what it has been for a long while: an obsolete organization sociopathically trying to preserve itself. 

    The real offense is that we all voted for government representatives that chose to keep this company alive instead of promoting  multi-modal transportation. Had we not done that, we would be reaping the benefits of job-creating infrastructure projects and economy-stimulating pedestrian and bike traffic. Instead we’re shouting down tasteless ads for which we paid and ultimately voted and dodging the same number of cars.

    Like Steve Jobs once said, “death is nature’s change agent”. This is a perfect example of what you get when we don’t let nature take its course. 

    It’s silly to ask car companies to not promote cars, especially, after we bailed them out and told them to do so.

    It is doubtful they learned anything from this. While they are issuing an apology to us, the economical thing for them to do is get a return on their ad investment by simply retrofitting this ad campaign for some place in Asia where the folks don’t squawk so much.

    Shouting down this stupidity is definitely a sign of progress but it won’t win the war. Only starving the car lobby of money and government reps will do that. In the next election, that will be ironically tough given that our next president will either be the guy that saved this miserable company or a guy from Michigan.

  • http://twitter.com/planbike Jody Brooks

    In the end, GM was just being what it has been for a long while: an obsolete organization sociopathically trying to preserve itself. 

    The real offense is that we all voted for government representatives that chose to keep this company alive instead of promoting  multi-modal transportation. Had we not done that, we would be reaping the benefits of job-creating infrastructure projects and economy-stimulating pedestrian and bike traffic. Instead we’re shouting down tasteless ads for which we paid and ultimately voted and dodging the same number of cars.

    Like Steve Jobs once said, “death is nature’s change agent”. This is a perfect example of what you get when we don’t let nature take its course. 

    It’s silly to ask car companies to not promote cars, especially, after we bailed them out and told them to do so.

    It is doubtful they learned anything from this. While they are issuing an apology to us, the economical thing for them to do is get a return on their ad investment by simply retrofitting this ad campaign for some place in Asia where the folks don’t squawk so much.

    Shouting down this stupidity is definitely a sign of progress but it won’t win the war. Only starving the car lobby of money and government reps will do that. In the next election, that will be ironically tough given that our next president will either be the guy that saved this miserable company or a guy from Michigan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1538620614 Sandy Sorlien

    Hate to be horribly cynical, but maybe they were actually smart enough to realize they would get a ton of free publicity from insulting cyclists? I say this as one of those who admonished them on their Facebook page.

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  • Alissa

    That’s an interesting point! They’ve certainly gotten TONS of attention now.

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  • Dave

    Riding a bike is good exercise, easy on the environment, and is cheaper. GM wants us to feel inadequate without one of their cars. Instead they found this approach is outdated in the 21st Century.
    They think they can produce whatever product they want, no matter how impractical or poorly designed, and then manipulate us into buying it using psychological tactics that worked in 1950. No wonder this company almost went bankrupt.

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  • Browngum

    well done on getting this blog onto the ABC what a dumb backward car company GM is they are so backward its not funny  toyota or benz would never do that….

  • Congdong

    What do you mean we paid for the bail out?
    Who died and made you spokesperson for the people.
    I think it was A good idea to bail them out.
    They are paying it back and hiring new people back to work.
    What is your plan?
    Get rid of all American manufacturing and buy from the Chinese.
    I hate bikes on the road unless there is A designated extra marked lane for them.                  (and who pays for that)
    You can’t see them they don’t pay taxes and they cause acidents.

  • Guest

    What you don’t realize, is that the hot chick in the car is staring at the pedaling dude’s massive tight thighs. Rock on, sexy biker.

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    Definitely given me something to think about.Some interesting thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to see what else you post in the future.