Ad Nauseam Double Feature: Why Is the Auto Industry Now Advertising Bikes?

A couple of car-related ads in heavy NFL rotation caught my attention mostly for their emphasis, intended or not, on car-free transportation.

Exhibit A is from Geico, which as usual doesn’t use cars in its ads for car insurance. Instead, in this spot the company’s ubiquitous cartoon spokeslizard is depicted walking the center line of the Brooklyn Bridge bike-ped path, extolling the value of Geico auto, RV and motorcycle insurance. Then comes the caveat — “You want to find a place to park all these things? Fuhgeddaboudit! This is New York.” — before the lizard is almost squashed by a cyclist who yells at him for being in the way.

Whether you’re from the city or not, you’re in on the joke: New York is a place where space is tight and people are on the move. But also: You don’t need a car to live here, and in fact, you’re probably better off without the hassle.

Unlike typical auto ads, in which cars whip down city streets with few people and little to no traffic, in our second feature Chrysler is looking to sell viewers on the company’s 300 model as an authentic urban accessory. And in a real urban environment there are pedestrians, buses and cyclists. With retro-soul accompaniment from Jay-Z, the ad hypes the 300’s 31 highway MPG rating with a montage of Detroit vignettes, including at least four shots of bikes. In contrast to the folks at General Motors, maybe Chrysler has figured out that ridiculing other modes is not the way to win the hearts of young potential car buyers.

Seen another way, of course, the message here could just as easily translate to “Buy this car and be the envy of all the chumps on the other side of the windshield as you cruise through the remnants of a dying city to your modernist suburban estate.” In which case, in addition to this spot sort of undermining the “Imported From Detroit” theme and its connotations of urban pride, it should be noted that all those cyclists, bus riders and pedestrians are getting much better mileage without the 300’s $27,000 base price tag.

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