Around 2006 I saw an ad showing a cyclist, then the bicycle rider’s point of view (or so it seemed) through narrow, winding cobblestone roads. At the end there was a twist: an image of a car. The advertisers were obviously leveraging the bicycle’s clean image to mask the automobile’s problematic one.
I’ve noticed a similar trend in print: newspaper, magazine and outdoor ads with bikes and happy bikers selling banks, pharmaceuticals, real estate, cellphones and snack food.
Optimistically, I hoped that bikes being used to sell other products could spin off to raise the profile of cycling itself.
Korean KIA Motors points to their company’s start as a bike parts maker with warm fuzzy ads instructing drivers to share the road and drive only when appropriate. In the UK their Sedona was sold with a KIA-branded bike.
Others try to win points by pitting mode against mode. In October 2011, GM print ads showed a cyclist hiding his face from a pretty girl in a car under the headline “Reality Sucks.” The ad, which offered discounts on cars and trucks for college students continued with, “Stop pedaling, start driving.” The outcry from bike advocates and bloggers was immediate and effective: GM pulled the ads, bike mavens had a field day and Giant Bicycles responded with a parody.
Advertisers know that creating the right image can evoke positive feelings toward a product, even when the images they use have no relation to their product’s impact the on our social well-being and the environment. Advertising-driven culture perpetuates the idea that feelings and perceptions are more powerful than reality.
But what happens when reality really does suck, and the promises of marketers are a hollow echo over a parched landscape exhausted by relentless resource extraction and climate change? Transportation biking may benefit from all the exposure – but where our beloved bikes are concerned, let’s try to understand what is true and what is just spin.