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.

  • Please retitle the post WITHOUT the “Ad nauseam” tag!

    I was neutral about the Geico add and was actually quite please to see the Chrysler add showing the car being driven in a civilized manner around the beautiful urban/suburban streets with kids playing and riding bikes.  I actually took note of this add before you posted it here as it was one of the first that I have seen that showed a car being driven such a socially appropriate way for the scenario and clearly not in a homicidal or all out psychopathic manner.

    Please stick to calling out auto manufacturers who seem to feel that they can only sell cars if they show them being driven in full drift around city streets like this new Mercedes commercial:

    Mercedes Benz should be ashamed of themselves!

  • Oh.  I forgot to mention, if you put up little fine print at the bottom of the screen “Professional driver on closed course.  DO NOT ATTEMPT!” its all okay.

  • Eric McClure

    I’m thinking the quick edits of bikes in the Chrysler spot is some sort subliminal advertising technique, with bikes the 2011 version of sex in the ice cubes.

    As for the gecko, contrary to what the Daily News would have us believe, there doesn’t appear to be much bike/ped conflict on the bridge.

  • Todd Scott

    “Cruising through the remnants of a dying city?” Screw you, Streetsblog. I’m tried of your constant anti-Detroit meme.

    Driving from to a Detroit suburb undermines “Imported from Detroit” when the Chrysler 300 is made in Canada? 

    Maybe there is no conspiracy. Maybe people just happen to ride bikes in Detroit and the Grosse Pointes and they were caught on film. That’s what happened to my friend Steve shown working on his bike in his driveway.
    BTW, the GM ads you referenced ridiculed *all modes* not all other modes. Didn’t you see the broken down car piece? Or does that not fit your message?

    I guess it’s time to pull out of the Streetsblog network. Feeding red meat to the anti-car sharks is clearly more important than providing good journalism.

  • Ian Turner

    Todd: I can tell you this much about advertising: It’s never an accident. Every part of every scene is planned in advance and carefully executed. If there are bikes in the video, it’s because the advertising company wanted them to be there.

  • Does the Geico Gecko know that he could be making $36 an hour as a Pedestrian Safety Manager on the Brooklyn Bridge?  Someone get that talking lizard a reflective vest!

  • What caught my eye in the Detroit video are the people.

    The census reported that the city had 82.7% Black, 10.6% White

    Someone watching the video would get the impression that it was actually filmed in Vermont, based on the demographics.

  • maaaty

    Good post.  I have utterly no explanation as to why, aside from that they’re lifestyle ads.  And that’s gotta be good — better than that ridiculous Mercedes ad that Andy B linked to.

  • Detroit Defender

    I’m a biker in the suburbs of Detroit- and BTW, Bloomberg news reported this week that Michigan is the second fastest state rebounding from the recession and it’s because of the auto industry! Come to Detroit and you will see all races- these are lifestyle commercials made to educate ignorant people and bloggers.

  • Daddy

    I don’t have the Detroit pride so I can’t speak to that but I thought it was a pretty well balanced post.

  • Ryan

    Ah so annoying that I can’t watch the embedded YouTube videos from my phone. I used to!

  • Anonymous

    I like how the Brampton, Ontario-built Chrysler car is helping the European-American male leave the barren center of Detroit for his extravagant home in Birmingham Hills.  

    There in 30 seconds is why the U.S. Auto industry and Detroit with it, is dead.

    “Anyone who travels back and forth across the Atlantic has to be impressed with the difference between European cities and ours, which make it appear as though World War Two actually took place in Detroit and Washington rather than Berlin and Rotterdam.”-James Howard Kunstler

  • Planning

    I think this is overall a good omen.  Cars still serve some useful purposes, and across most of the continent will remain a necessary evil for years to come.  At least it seems the auto industry is developing the view that cars are one part of a larger transportation network.  

    Marketing their product to people who want to use a bike for some trips, but still need/want a car is a step (albeit small) in the right direction.  

    This is a far cry better than the tons of ads that directly try to color public opinion against cyclists by representing them as losers who can’t get a car!

  • John Wilkinson

    Great post


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