State Farm Discontinues Its “Humiliated Cyclist” Ad

Our State Farm Ad Nauseam featuring "Jim" the humiliated bike commuter drew a lot of interest. The post was picked up all over, generated more than 10,000 YouTube views and, along with all of last week’s congestion pricing-related web traffic, it crashed our server on Friday.

Now, according to Director of Marketing Communications TIm Van Hoof, State Farm is yanking the ad:

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am sorry the advertisement offended anyone. Our intention with this particular ad was to recognize and empathize with the everyday challenge of high gas prices, and suggest that State Farm could help by providing lower auto insurance rates than a person may be receiving from their current provider.

But clearly we have heard your concerns. In fact, we take very seriously each letter, email and blog comment we receive.

During the past few days, I discussed the perception of this advertisement with others at State Farm, and we decided the right thing to do would be to discontinue it. We will remove this ad as quickly as possible from the current rotation schedule.

Please know that State Farm is very concerned about doing what we can to improve the health, safety and environment in our communities.

For example, in numerous states, employees can earn up to $1.50 a day by ridesharing, walking, or riding a bike to work. We also have more than 1,200 employees participating in van pooling throughout the country.

State Farm has also been a supporter of bicycle safety through the thousands of bicycle rodeos we’ve held for children throughout the US and Canada. We remain open to discussion about how State Farm might partner with the bicycling community in the future.

It’s commendable that State Farm was so responsive, and hopefully the company will actually consider some of the many suggestions put forth by Streetsbloggers and others. Still, we must admit we’re a little sad that they’re pulling the ad. If nothing else, it does depict a guy biking to work as an alternative to suffering the high costs of driving. Besides, we’d grown kinda fond of Jim and Sheila.

Godspeed, Jim.

  • Dave H.

    I think the ad played on virility, emasculation, autocentrism and even race in some unfortunate ways and I am glad to hear it is being pulled. The clear point of the ad, as has been pointed out, was that ‘being deprived’ of a car is like being emasculated. Although subtle, I think it’s significant that the main actor was a black man too: our culture holds black men up as the supreme incarnation of virility (obviously, when virility is understood as aggressiveness or lawlessness, this is not exactly a good thing). The point is, to the white suburban customers, if even HE can be emasculated by not getting to work by car, think about you. Not pretty stuff and I think State Farm should have known better. I think pulling the ad was a smart move and I am glad it was made.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    I think State Farm is really listening. And despite the annoying ad, that is pretty impressive. I look forward to seeing a commercial from State Farm that is very pro-cycling that also promotes their company in a way we can all support. Then they’ll see that ad spread like wildfire throughout the cycling community in a similar, but positive way.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Oh and an idea:

    How about a direct sequel to the ad with Sheila & Jim:

    This time Jim pulls up really happy on his bike. Shelia sees him and smiles. She asks how his ride was and he responds positively. She says she has been thinking about riding her bike too, since gas is so expensive and she wants to be healthier. He says something about it nice having options to get to work and even though he has great car with car insurance from State Farm, its nice to be able to leave the car at home from time to time.

    (And wouldn’t it be great if he adds, and besides my car insurance now covers me when I am on a bike too!)

  • ddartley

    As a former actor, I often wondered how much I should let my principles influence what jobs I took.

    Like, would I really turn down a lucrative commercial job if it contained a message I found objectionable, like this spot did?

    This story helped me figure that out. Since this ad’s been pulled, I believe the actors in it are now going to miss out on residuals/royalties they would have gotten from its continued airing.

    If I had been up for it and turned it down because of my conscience, the sting of the lost wages would have been soothed by the commercial’s ultimate premature demise.

    So the moral for any actors out there is, I guess, yes, DO listen to your conscience if a job you’re up for conflicts with your own values.

  • Yeah, I thought about Jim’s residuals too. Sorry, Jim.

  • ddartley

    Yeah Aaron, but I honestly feel that the harm caused by the ad outweighed Jim’s lost residuals. So absolutely, sorry, Jim, but that ad had to go. Unlike Brad, I don’t think the ad’s depiction of cycling as a cost-effective alternative had ANY net merit, considering its more essentially deriding attitude towards cycling.

  • $1.50 a day is probably a bargain for State Farm – for each car they get off the road the odds that they have to make a payout go down… if this was implemented into their customer’s policy (cash back? like a credit card?) they might really make a dent in VMT. What if you had a swipe card that kept track of days you drove, and miles travelled? Companies could then refund cash to a customer for days they do not drive – or for mileage over a certain # per trip.

  • Continuing on the vein of Gargamel@3:

    Another consideration for the “sequel” is that you can make your insurance cheaper by putting fewer miles on your car per year.

  • And in other news:

    “State Farm farm announces the creation of a new insurance branch catering to bicyclists”

    haha . j.k

  • Thank you Tim. I chimed in on some other blogs and boards.

    As someone who CHOOSES to bike commute and cycle for errands around town, as well as drive for weekend road trips I appreciate your recognition.

    And I’m a State Farm policy holder for my house


  • Ed

    I have heard talk recommending that car insurance be charged by the mile rather than flat monthly fees – those who are on the road more pay higher insurance. In that vein, maybe State Farm could start a program that gives auto insurance discounts to customers who leave their cars at home during weekdays and commute using alternative modes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (In that vein, maybe State Farm could start a program that gives auto insurance discounts to customers who leave their cars at home during weekdays and commute using alternative modes.)

    They all do that right now.

    The insurance companies recognize that the stress of those must-take commutes in heavy traffic creates accidents.

    I get charged less because I drive fewer miles and take the subway to work. I have to report where every member of the family lives and attends work or school and how they get there to qualify.

  • El Seven

    @12, exactly what insurance company charges for people who drive less? I am paying the same for 3000 miles a year as I was when I did 60K.

  • Katakanadian

    The insurance corporation of BC (ICBC) does not give a discount directly for driving less. They have a ‘pleasure-use’ discount which carries a limit of 6 days/month driving to work. My retired fathered drives far more than I do even though I work 6 days/week.

    State Farm saves a whack of dough far in excess of $1.50/day for each cycling employee. $1.50 won’t motivate anyone to cycle just like the 3 cent grocery discount for using my own bag is complete joke.

    Still, I’m glad SF had the good sense to pull the ad.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (@12, exactly what insurance company charges for people who drive less? I am paying the same for 3000 miles a year as I was when I did 60K.)

    It’s a fair assumption that any company that requires a report of how many miles you drive is adjusting its premium accordingly. In their view, of course, they aren’t charging less to those who charge less, they are charging more to those who drive more. But it is the same thing.

    Every insurance company I’ve had — Allstate, Tristate, State Farm — has asked me to report miles, if the car is driven to work or school, and if not where work and school is and how we got there. I think it’s fair to assume that if I drove 20K per year to work, I’d be paying even more.

  • Channeling Teresa

    Cross Post Comment:

    My old boss from the agency days, Teresa, a worldwidely-renowned branding genius sent this 12-Carat plan (Lew, are you there? Teresa really likes Vespas…)

    Hey you,

    Even car insurance companies should be more interested in being VISIBLY green.

    1. Fuel-efficient cars get a lower premium.

    2. PT bike-riding workers get a lower premium.

    3. When a 16 year-old gets added to the policy, Allstate sends the kid a really cool bike.

    4. Allstate hooks-up with a bike manufacturer to make the freebie happen — lots of PR and parents will LOVE IT.

    5. The bike company then works out speedometers or tracking mechanism that relates the kid’s premium to the ratio between bike riding and car driving — obviously the more the kid bikes, the lower the premium.

    6. Adding your kid to the premium (especially boys) is hugely expensive — premium stays ridiculously high till they’re about 23 years old.

    7. Insert Vespa for Bike.

    8. Way cooler and still better than a car.

    9. Then run an ad with kids on Vespa going to Prom.

    10. Make alternative energy cooler — it’s no skin off an insurance company’s nose.

    11. Give DDB ad agency planners and creatives a new brief: “how can we make car insurance greener and people safer?” and riff on ideas like premiums, 16 year olds, fuel efficiency, vespas, babies, seniors, gather stats on safety and alternative modes of transport, figure out new ways to reward and incentivize people to do the right thing or be just a little bit greener, penalize those with bigger engines, brainstorm other partnerships, sponsorships, beside the usual suspects like car and bike and vespa companies. What could they do with starbucks which is a stop on the way to everyone’s commute? Like free espresso for anyone wearing a bike helmet, sponsored by Allstate.

    12. Don’t expect all people to ride bikes and take public transport — think of baby steps to get people at least moving in the right direction.

    Love ya, teresa

    P.S. Add this line to the “brief ddb” section. “Extend thinking to other insurance policies beside auto. Lower home owner insurance rates for people who use energy-efficient lightbulbs, that sort of thing…”

  • ddartley

    Here’s an anti-bike commercial for car insurance that’s even worse:

    I saw it last night on ESPN.

    Notice the animation at the very end: Smashing into things really fast and destructively is not only okay, but cute.


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