Ad Nauseam: The Humiliated Cyclist, Take Two

Now that State Farm has bowed out of the competition to air the world’s most anti-bike insurance commercial, Farmers’ HelpPoint steps into the breach with "Rush Hour."

The Scene: We hear the sound of someone unlocking their car by remote, as a be-suited, middle-aged white guy strides by in a parking garage. That must have been someone else’s remote, though, because when the suit emerges onto the street, he is hunched over a children’s bike, bereft of all dignity.

Pedaling at a ridiculously fast clip, the "cyclist" navigates downtown streets in a succession of rapid shots. He diligently signals a lane change, has truck exhaust spewed in his face, and endures the disbelieving stares of pedestrians. In what we will charitably assume is a nod to real cyclists, the protagonist is passed by someone on a normal-sized road bike.

He proceeds to exit the urban core, riding on the expressway as car commuters honk to signal their irritation at having to pass him. The previously rinky-dink soundtrack swells to a crescendo. Straining with exertion, the character mounts one last hill, city skyline safely behind him, before turning onto his driveway and entering the welcome embrace of his garage.

Tagline: "Life can be hard after a car accident." Beat. "One call to Farmers’ HelpPoint could fix that." Then an auto-pomorphized version of the Farmers’ HelpPoint logo speeds across the screen, crashes, turns into a wreck, and rights itself, good as new. A corporate motto appears: "Sanity makes a comeback."

Message: Hey, all you drivers crashing your cars out there. No need to investigate painfully humiliating alternate modes of transportation. Get back behind the wheel ASAP!

Alternate interpretation (character’s POV): Man, once you get out of your car, you really see how autos are fouling up the air and making downtown an incredibly unpleasant place. Those streets would be way better with some protected bike lanes and traffic-calming infrastructure.

And do I really need to live so far from work? This wedge of grass isn’t really worth the trouble. I’m going to get a real bike like that guy who passed me and move closer to downtown. Might cost more to live there, but I’ll save a ton on gas… and car insurance.

  • Clarence

    Another great find Streetsblog. I actually think this one is far worse then State Farm’s.

  • I hate the humiliating perspective on cycling, but it did give me a chuckle as sometimes I’m in this situation. If my son leaves his bike at school because he goes home with a friend, and the next day I drop him off at school without a bike, I’ll continue on to work on his bike.

    It’s not quite as small as the one in the ad, but I definitely draw stares (especially from other cyclists) as I’m way too big for it, and it makes me slower and more vulnerable in traffic. Plus, like the guy in the ad, I’m often in a suit. And damn it, it IS hard to climb hills with a single speed!

    I guess the lesson is that it is ridiculous to stake your self-worth on how others view your mode of transportation (one of the fundamental aspects and drivers of car culture).

  • ddartley

    I like how even the fact that the guy signals that he’s turning is laughable.

    Also, maybe I’m over-sensitive, but way the logo crahes at the end and sprays debris everywhere looks really disturbing to me. Looks a little too much like a real smash-up, which is a pretty horrifying thing. And then the way it fixes itself up almost looks cute.

    Ooooopsies! I was doing 60 in a 30 and smashed into someone! Soooorrreeeee!!! 😉 😉 !!!

  • delusional

    Sanity makes a comeback?????????????

  • dbs

    This reminds me of the bike I rode at Burning Man.

    According to Advertolog, this commercial was made by Campbell-Ewald LA. (They also have an office in the Motor City.) Should we sick SB LA on ’em?
    How quickly can we get this one pulled!?!?

    Similar to the CP debacle, the blame game is an interesting one. Is it more the agency’s fault or the client’s fault.

    Or, were they unaware that a brand new adult-sized bicycle costs a fraction of a month of car payments/insurance/gas etc?

    Did they not know that exercise has a better effect on sanity compared to being stuck in stop and go traffic?

    Released: April 2008
    Brand name: Farmers HelpPoint
    Country: USA
    Category: Banking
    Campbell-Ewald, Los Angeles wanted to generate awareness and consideration of Farmers HelpPoint, a unique service that goes to work immediately after an accident or loss to restore not only physically but emotionally as well.

    Product : Farmers HelpPoint
    Agency : Campbell-Ewald Los Angeles
    Executive Creative Director: Bill Ludwig
    Creative Director: Debbie Karnowsky
    Art Director: Chip Kettering
    Copywriter: John Dolab
    Agency Producer: John Haggerty
    Director: Dante Ariola
    Prod. Co. : MJZ, Los Angeles
    Country : United States of America
    Other Credits : Editing: Rick Russel, Final Cut
    Colorist: Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company3
    Visual Effects: The Mill
    Music: Stimmung

    P.S. It seems they want to know what we think:
    (586) 574-3400
    Los Angeles:
    (310) 231-2900

  • All these ads tell me is that we’re winning. It might not be a landslide yet, and there might be some big losses along the way, but car culture is getting scared of us.

  • Jason A

    At :05 – :08 he’s actually out-pacing traffic.

    Who looks ridiculous now?

  • Look, you guys do great work, and your success with the last insurance commercial was all net. But I don’t think you got it with this one. I mean, it even compares him to another bicyclist at one point. Sorry.

  • MisterBad Example

    This seems to be no small coincidence–a couple of years ago, the meme was about automotive power as an alternative to athleticism. Remember the guy parachuting to his SUV, or the BMW driver pulling up next to a runner and acting as if he’d just run a marathon?

    I think we should all be on the lookout for the growing anti-bicycle meme perpetuated by those whose livelihoods depend on selling cars and their related accessories. Let’s face it– if more drivers got off on the idea that they could commute to work by bike, Farmers would be in some trouble.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Damned! Jason A in #7 said before I could.

    However I totally disagree with MikeM in #8. This ad just perpetuates conformity and addiction to the car culture with petty ridicule and same tactics.

    This insurance company doesn’t want you to find alternatives. The more you drive the more money they make. The car insurance companies are just as bad as the car companies themselves. If you don’t own a car you wouldn’t need their services. And if you drive less like I do (under 5000 miles a year, all pleasure driving, no commuting – do that by bike) you pay less too. Also not good for them.

  • If not having a car has diminished his freedom and forced him on to the bike, why’s he riding a kid’s bike instead of spending all that saved petrol money on a nice hybrid or a zippy road bike?

    Oh, I get it. It’s because he’s had a car accident, written off his car and is still miraculously able to ride a bike.

    Har har he’s on a bike and bieks r stoopid.

  • Not Offended Yet

    I saw this ad and was not offended. I think the ad does do a little to raise awareness of the fact that people on bikes are vulnerable (we are!) although it does nothing to show that riding a bike to work can be pleasurable, fast, and improve your overall health. But there is a bike in the background that zooms by this poor sap, maybe it’s a subliminally placed message to appease real bike commuters. The whole thing about truck pollution seemed relevant to me. Also, when gets passed by a jerk in a Honda at the end, the driver is the one who looks like a jerk, not the protagonist.

  • somewhere in nyc

    What do you expect? Bear with me for a minute, and think about how creative (read: uncreative) advertising agencies are.

    One agency does a theme, and the others follow. (Examples: Budweiser->Miller/Coors; Sprint Guy->Verizon Guy; Dell Guy->Apple Guy; etc, etc, etc). While one may take a theme and refine it, it’s the same rehashed themes over and over and over again.

    In respect to anti-bike sentiment, while it’s all well and good that State Farm pulled their ad, they didn’t publically state *why* they pulled their ad, so no one’s thinking has changed whatsoever (besides State Farm — if that).

    In other people’s mind, their thinking (let’s call it advertising logic) dictates that a) they found it funny [because they didn’t know any better]; b) the ad didn’t do well so that’s why State Farm pulled it; c) we can do better so let’s rehash the theme.

    Unless an ad comes out that respects bikers (or as the previous person said: shows how vulnerable bikes are), expect to hate the next batch of ads that will come from advertising agencies whose major clients are insurance companies.

  • Mitch

    Here’s an ad from New Belgium Brewing, that takes a more enthusiastic view of bike commuting.

  • Ben Ginsberg

    I admit, I actually laughed a bit at the State Farm ad. It was an attempt at humor with a lackluster performance, though at least they mention bikes as an alternative to cars. And it is nice to not only see their response, but hear about the alternative options State Farm offers their employees.

    But the Farmers’ HelpPoint ad? Well, it’s just negative. It separates out the pleasure/competitive cyclist with those who might seek to use it as a commuting alternative. It demoralizes the man in the ad by putting him on the little kid’s bike and running him through a veritable gauntlet.

    To me, the entire commercial seems to accept that we live in the car dominated world, while at the same time saying that to be without a car is both physically dangerous and hazardous to one’s health (pollution), not to mention entirely inconvenient. Then they sum it all up with “Life can be hard after a car accident…One call to Farmers’ HelpPoint could fix that.” It’s really saying, DON’T LET WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS GUY HAPPEN TO YOU; WE CAN PREVENT IT FROM HAPPENING TO YOU! A truly disgusting, ridiculing message by Farmers’ HelpPoint.

  • I think one of the major reasons bikes are looked down upon is because they’re inexpensive. These days, saving and spending wisely aren’t valued bahaviours the way they were when my parents were growing up. The US debt culture reflects this. No longer are people stigmatized for being $100k in debt, they’re stigmatized if they’re not driving a $100k from and to their house in the suburbs. There’s a broad and I think largely unrecognized (on an individual level) perception that if someone is riding a bike, they obviously can’t afford a car. Good old classism reasserting itself in new and subtle ways.

    Or maybe they’re just jealous of my rock-hard ass.

  • david goldstein

    My opinion is that the underlying offense in this little piece o’ propaganda is that farmers is quite awful to deal with in the event of any kind of a claim. They treat their policyholders poorly, they treat their liability charges even worse.
    Having recently endured a little tour of the medical/legal system at farmers’ expense, I can state from personal experience that there is no insurer more universally despised by doctors, lawyers, and juries than farmers at this time.
    Just don’t buy anything they’re selling.

  • brian k.

    nick/#16- dead on. somewhere along the line, the simplicity of the bicycle got spun into “childish”, and the economical and time-tested nature of it as a machine got confused with “cheap” and “old-fashioned.”


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