Ad Nauseam: State Farm on the Humiliation of Biking to Work

Drop what you’re doing, click the "play" button and enjoy 30 seconds of outstanding car culture courtesy of State Farm.

The Scene: An African American actor with a shaved head, conservative gray suit and slightly stiff demeanor asks, "Where can you find me? At the intersection of gas prices can not get any higher and guess what? Gas prices just got higher."

Jangly rock music is playing in the background. The camera pulls back and we see he’s standing in the parking lot of an anonymous corporate office building in Any Suburb, USA. Instead of suit pants, he’s wearing bright red spandex shorts, dark dress socks pulled up mid-calf and white sneakers. He looks ridiculous. And he’s standing next to a bicycle. Adding a surreal touch to the whole thing, he is also standing on a bright red circular carpet.

"You know that place where you’re swapping four wheels for two?" He looks down at his own outfit with an apparent sense of resigned humiliation. "Oh, man, I’m there."

Editor’s note: Yeah, I know that place. It’s called a city. I actually really like that place, especially in the spring time when everyone is getting back on their bikes and it’s like a Critical Mass ride every morning on Dean Street in Brooklyn. Anyway…

Text rolls across the screen letting us know that State Farm can save us $369 a year. A voiceover says, "State Farm can get you back behind the wheel by saving you hundreds on car insurance. And you can pay your way with a plan that fits your budget. Call, click or visit and start saving your way. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."

Then the kicker: As the poorly dressed bike commuter fiddles with his equipment a female coworker walks by and says, "Nice pants, Jim." His voice dripping with irony, Jim replies, "Thank you, Sheila."

Analysis: Biking to work — the humiliation! But not really. This advertisement is actually highly subversive. The actor is so stiff and unconvincing, the commercial almost feels like a hostage video. The poor guy is reading his lines straight into the camera but he doesn’t really seem to believe what he’s saying. And that bizarre red carpet he’s standing on — it fully eliminates any sense of verité. It confirms that this is scripted, staged and not necessarily to be believed.

Meanwhile, on the subliminal level you’re looking at Jim’s legs and body, just like Sheila the coworker was doing as she walked by, checking him out. Yeah, he’s dressed like a freak but he is also extremely fit, athletic and healthy. Sheila’s teasing him but that’s because she thinks Jim is hot. The idea flickers across your medial prefrontal cortext, that part of the brain the neuromarketers are always trying to get to, Hey, maybe I could get fit and healthy by biking to work like Jim. For $369 a year and whatever gas money I’d save by not driving I could buy a really nice bike. Until this State Farm ad interrupted the ballgame I was watching on TV, it never even occurred to me that I could bike to the office park.

"Start saving your way." And thus idea is implanted: I’m going to start saving by biking to work every once in a while. Thanks, State Farm.

  • JB

    Too bad this ad was yanked. I was just about to utilize it in a discussion of how sad and pathetic our country has become: friends of my (unfortunately enough) laughed, yes, LAUGHED at this horrid advertisement, completely brain-washed by the bullshit car culture that pervades out national consciousness and that is promoted and perpetuated by companies like your friendly, neighborhood State Farm.

  • JB

    Too bad this ad was yanked. I was just about to utilize it in a discussion of how sad and pathetic our country has become: friends of mine (unfortunately enough) laughed, yes, LAUGHED at this horrid advertisement, completely brain-washed by the bullshit car culture that pervades out national consciousness and that is promoted and perpetuated by companies like your friendly, neighborhood State Farm.

  • Schiekster

    Cycling in any form is meant to be an athletic, peaceful, enjoyable experience. Let it be that. Could State Farm advertise differently…yes. Is it a conspiracy against us cyclists…No.
    Life is too short. Stop.

  • Change NOW

    I bike in the city, but for commuting 20 miles to work, I ride a scooter which gets 96 mpg…approximately….it is not carbon free, but we don’t yet have electric scooters in my region…..

    people here are quite friendly about it and very understanding, and I have since seen more and more….

    down south I wouldn’t try this and would most likely get cursed out by an SUV or truck driver or just ran over….they are very backwards in the Deep South….i.e. red state…..except for the “college towns” and a few islands of intelligent thought….amid a sea of ignorance….I hope this changes…for the better…..

  • Change NOW

    That being said, I pull over if somebody is tailgating, even if they are way over the speed limit. I don’t like when I have to follow somebody who shouldn’t even be driving going 30 in a 55 but realize also our govt. won’t support any trains or alternative transportation or Smart Growth….rural areas are dying……and it is govt’s fault….

    I applaud a base gas price at perhaps $4.00 and then only tax it above this price, but it is very depressing that govt. has to force people to use their brains, since they don’t have any common sense or forethought….we are basically chimpanzees…..s h i t t i n g in our own house and then attacking others……

    if everybody capable of biking a few miles to the store or work, and then only driving farther distances, everybody would be in better shape, people would get along more as you can’t avoid people on a bike…..and oil would be cheaper and we could more time to transition to wind/solar….without the inevitable “peak oil” crisis…..which is now destined to occur….or is now occurring….according to the theory….

  • Change NOW

    GEICO blackmailed me when I had them, I switched, they kept charging me AFTER THE NEW AGENT CALLED THEM AND FAXED THEM PAPERWORK; GEICO didn’t care…and then sent to a collection agency to force me to pay WHEN I AM ALREADY COVERED BY ANOTHER INSURANCE COMPANY (NOT STATE FARM)…..

    a month later, I began receiving weekly adverts from GEICO….telling me to “come back to GEICO”….and have gotten these nonstop since, even when calling them and telling them to stop sending them……are these companies insane?????

  • OK… so not only does the Director of Marketing Communication for the largest insurer write, explain and appologize for the fact that someone may have been offended, but he discussed your concerns with the company, and the add was pulled off… and there’s still all this negativity around here. What if I say I was considering riding my bike to work, but after seeing all the negativity and paranoia in this blog I decided I should just not associate with this? I’m not saying that is the case, but that’s the behavior you are portraying by talking about cancelling insurance with State Farm, or any other company for that matter, because of what you interpreted from that commercial. You have to consider that when this commercial was aired the gas prices were going up through the roof, and daily commuters were looking for alternatives to get to work. I can clearly see that this was the situation the character in this commercial was in. Not a daily official biker like you, but someone who probably rode his car day by day and decided to ride his bike to save on gas. Co workers were not necesarily putting him down, but surprised that he was riding his bike. What shocked me the most, was when someone responded:

    “and I’m not impressed by State Farm hosting a few bike safety rodeos for kids. How about education adult customers on how to interact with bicycles on the road, implementing drastic rate hikes after drivers have at-fault collisions with cyclists, cancelling the policy if they kill a cyclist”

    That just shows the negativity rather constructive discussion. The bad guy is the bad guy no matter what because I say so.

    Just a humble and respectful opinion from an outside reader that just happened to run into this blog!!!

  • What if I say I was considering riding my bike to work, but after seeing all the negativity and paranoia in this blog I decided I should just not associate with this?

    I’d say you were an idiot. You should bike to work (or not) based on convenience and your personal priorities, not on the negativity and paranoia (or lack thereof) on some advocacy blog. Sheesh.

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  • Gashat

    All these State Farm ads including my most hated Jenn and Jerry commercials SUCK.I didn’t know they were marketing for 3 year olds

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