26 October 2009

The Car Empire Strikes Back

This advert from Audi is a signal from the auto industry that they are under pressure AND that they are willing to fight back.

In the lecture I'm travelling about with at the moment [I'll be publishing it on the blog eventually] I highlight how the auto industry learned all the tricks of postive marketing from the bicycle industry a century ago. This is how we USED to sell bicycles and bicycle culture. They have fine-tuned the art form and they rarely make mistakes. They know exactly how to highlight the positives of their products. On the other hand, we have forgotten how to highlight the positives of urban cycling and we bizarrely ignore the overwhelming Good News in our efforts to sell the percieved negative sides of riding a bicycle. It's hardly surprising that the auto industry are among the more fervent advocates for helmet laws. They know competition when they see it and they go for the throat in branding cycling as dangerous. It sells, quite simply, cars.

From a marketing perspective the advert above is pure brilliance. It capitalizes on the general perception in western societies that 'environmentalists' are kooky, nerdy hippie types who eat raw organic beet root for breakfast.

The environmental lobby has had 40 years to brand themselves well and have failed horribly. While people are perhaps aware of the issues, very few people are actually doing anything about it. That's why this type of advert is so easy to invent. 30 seconds of pushing all the right buttons on their opponents and all the right buttons on the general population.

Amazingly, the Audi overtakes the hippie-mobile Volvo on a curve. Not exactly traffic safety conscious, are they?

Here's an ad for BMW that gently caresses all the emotional heartstrings. Just listen to the speaker's manuscript:

"Joy is efficent, dynamic and... unstoppable." [meaning... we're not going anywhere, so don't get any funny ideas...]

"We realised a long time ago that what you make people feel is just as important as what you make."

"At BMW we don't just make cars... we make joy."

And on their website:
On the back of this three-letter word, we built a company. We don’t just build cars. We are the creators of emotion. We are the guardians of ecstasy, the thrills and chills, and all the words that can’t be found in a dictionary. We are the Joy of Driving. No car company can rival our history, replicate our passion, our vision. Innovation is our backbone but joy is our heart. We will not stray from our three-letter purpose. This is the story of BMW. This is the story of joy.

Not a single motoring helmet in sight in that advert. How odd.

If only cities and towns working towards increasing modal share for bicycles could learn from these basic marketing techniques that the auto industry have perfected. Hire a decent company to develop campaigns. Far too many municipal brochures/campaigns are too geeky to attract the attention and interest of the broader population.

If we're going to sell this urban cycling thing, we need to change our direction.

Thanks to a reader for the first advert and Walkit.com for the latter.


SteveL said...

1. I am actually shocked at how mediocre the audi's mileage is; my 6 year old VW Tdi has better fuel economy and its bigger. They must have gone for a bigger engine and automatic transmission.

2. Bristol Traffic recently printed a complaint I filed with the UK advertising standards authority about their Joy of GPS, documenting the failure modes of satnav and making clear the copy was made up by someone ill informed. Guess which web page comes out top when you search for Joy BMW GPS ? Ours.

anna said...

You're right on this one. Besides I think that we are so used to car commercials that we would find it strange to see a city without cars advertised on billboards, read the newspaper without looking into a car's face on each page, watch tv programs without car commercials etc.

I wish that all of these ads would just be replaced by advertisement for bicycles. I'm sure many people would be very surprised to notice how much we are already infected and how little we actively notice the influence of the car industry. Unfortunately, and I think that's the biggest problem, are the bike producers rather small and don't even have the money to advertise themselves at all.

Scottish Cyclist said...

One of the more unexpected consequences of the recent global financial crises has been that the amount car advertising in news paper dropped and at the same time the anti cycling editorial content of the same paper also reduced, could this just be coincidence?

Anonymous said...

"It's hardly suprising that the auto industry are among the more fervent advocates for helmet laws."

I'm curious about this statement and would like to research it further. Do you have a source/sources for this statement? The mandatory helmet law issue is once again rearing up in Toronto and I'm interested in locating more ammunition with which to counter it. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

WSJ online headlines: "The Lexus 2010 Line Inspiring An Industry". The car of tomorrow (in addition to coolers between the seats) will have obesity pill dispensers- - perhaps with "free refills" with every gas tank fill-up.

Longleaf Bicycles said...

The Audi ad illustrates the reason why cycling and pedestrian advocates should continue to move the discussion away from the environment and toward the quality of human lives.

If being green is the only reason not to drive, they all the auto manufacturers need to do is make a car that has little or no environmental downside.

They can make cars powered by the poop of virgin vegans and they'd still be a bad deal for people.

It isn't just the environment or the cost of gasoline. People want to ride, walk, and take public transport because they want to be a part of the places in which they live rather than merely pass through them, they want to be closer to their family and neighbors rather than live among strangers. Normative car travel results in lives spread too thin and rents apart the cohesion of families, neighborhoods, and communities.

Making cars that go 200mpg won't change that.

SteveL said...

you could always just deface the car adverts and get bike adverts for free. Like this Audi advertisment


João Lacerda said...

At the same time, people make videos such as this one to "promote" bicycling?!?!


Brent said...

There might have been a time when joy was the usual auto experience. Today, however, my usual auto experience is stuck-in-traffic. Is it any wonder that recent news reports point to a decline in interest in cars among the young?

Jonathan Dickerson said...

The Volvo ad was pretty weak but the Segway part was hilarious!

bentguy said...

Mahatma Gandhi said’ “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Well, they're not ignoring us anymore.

Marek Utkin (Warsaw, Poland) said...

It's advert which tells: "no ideas".
Exactly the same message was in A. Huxley's "Brave New World".

LGV said...

d there are some people to believe those bullshit with this gay voice ?!!!

gearsurfer said...

I was quite surprised when I read the heading of the blog post today. I came across the Audi commercial about a week ago and was inspired to start a "Alternative Transportation Strikes Back" Commercial: http://alternativetransportationstrikesback.blogspot.com/

I have found a film maker in Canada who offered to support us with this project but we still appreciate all help and support we can get. Cheers, Michael

Anonymous said...

Yes, the auto industry cannot resist taking a cheap shot at environmentalists, thus undermining their whole message. Indeed, they come off as decidedly sinister.

You make exactly the same error when you attack the makers of bicycle helmets and those of us who wear them. And yes, it adds a sinister dimension to what is otherwise an excellent blog;

Nate Briggs said...

Hey Mikael:

The concept of Joy is used to sell everything from dishsoap to antacids.

I'm supposed to be overjoyed that my clothes are cleaner. Or that my dog seems to like a particular brand of food.

Cars are supposed to be a major source of Joy. But, I watch motorists go by from my two-wheeled perch, I see very little of that emotion.

Some are half-asleep ... many are talking on the phone ... and many just appear annoyed.

Car manufacturers promise Joy. But they seldom deliver.

Bicycle manufacturers should be promising Joy - but they don't seem to recognize how much Joy is in their products.

... Nate (Salt Lake City)

Mikael said...

this blog has 'sinister undertones'?
that actually sounds quite cool.

although please don't make the mistake of mistaking opposition to bicycle helmet promotion and legislation with opposition to bicycle helmets.

that would be silly. and silliness has no place on a 'sinister blog' :-)

Anonymous said...

"... please don't make the mistake of mistaking opposition to bicycle helmet promotion and legislation with opposition to bicycle helmets."

You have repeatedly ridiculed those of us who choose to wear helmets. Many cyclist do not enjoy the bike friendly conditions of Denmark. Nevertheless, you insist on giving dangerously misguided advice regarding a safety measure that has already saved a great many lives.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should take a look at things a little closer to home?

"Imagine a Future Denmark with Almost No Cycling" (2009):


Anonymous said...

And the BMW ad is voiced by... Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard, Prof. Charles Xavier)! Perhaps he is still a Borg.

Anonymous said...

Audi ridicules cyclists to push their car. This blog ridicules cyclists who resort to helmets to stay alive.

Neither one can see over the walls of their own little room.

kfg said...

Resorting to cars to find joy is fallacious.

So is resorting to helmets to stay alive.

The fact that many people engage in both of these activities does not make them either effective or true, and if neither effective nor true they can only lead to sorrow and death if relied upon.

I would rather live with an unpleasant truth than die from a comforting delusion; and the truth is, each in their own way, that the protective shells of both cars and of helmets are psychological; i.e. they make you feel safe but have little to no objective reality.

Standard disclaimer: I both own and wear helmets. I am not anti helmet. I am pro understanding them, how they work, and thus their severe limitations.

People die wearing cycle helmets. They do so at approximately the same rate as people who do not wear helmets; often because it can be objectively shown that their helmet provided no function upon impact.

If you learn how both helmets and HEADS work (hint; below its yield point the inside of your helmet is as hard as a wooden beam, which is harder than your head), this should not be surprising.

I advise you resort to your own abilities to stay alive. That's what they're there for.

Anonymous said...

The images of autos in the second video could be replaced by cycling images and the text would remain consistent until the final sentence, "Here at BMW..."

Matt said...

Even so called "clean diesels" aren't very clean. My bicycle on the other hand ...

There is also such a thing as spatial pollution.

Mikael said...

kfg: your eloquence and writing ability never ceases to impress.

why aren't you writing pieces for this blog?

Mark said...

Going back to the point of the lack of marketing skills on behalf of environmental campaigns / cycling groups, this, I think, is the crux of the matter.

Instead of investing our energies into trying to stop or deride car commercials we should be learning from their successful ideas (because, let's face it, they must be successful else our populations wouldn't have sleep-walked into accepting the car into it's heart so fully) and using them to our own good. A good example would be the 'Sky Ride' which happened in London this year - a mass participation cycling event, this year it was backed by Sky Broadcasting and subsequently had a huge and sophisticated marketing campaign (with a big budget!) Last year's 'Skyride' (then called FreeWheel) had about 25 000 cyclists. This year's had 65 000 cyclists - ordinary people - car owners, families, everyone - out on their bikes at the same time on central London streets - because it had been marketed as a safe, simple, fun activity.

If the pro-cycling lobby could do something on this scale and translate that budget and campaign into those numbers of cyclists being out on the road everyday you wouldn't have to worry about car adverts anymore - they simply wouldn't be selling enough cars to make the money to fund them.

As it stands now, sadly, cycling is still seen as something 'other', sporty, hyper-masculine or strange. And dangerous, despite this being a total misdemeanor. We have a long way to go before this changes, but I do think we are heading in the right direction - we just need to get our sh*t together when it comes to the image of ourselves that we present to the rest of the world (as I wrote here: http://ibikelondon.blogspot.com/2009/10/public-face-of-cycling.html) as sometimes we are our own worst-enemies when it comes to this matter. Blogs like this, and the cycle chic blogs are a great starting point.

i b i k e l o n d o n

kfg said...

Mikael: Well, thank you. I suppose if I had that particular itch I would be writing a blog of my own; and I am not. Although I'm obviously not reticent to speak my mind (which is not necessarily what I THINK, which can be confusing to some people) in a forthright manner, my nature seems to be more comfortable in the commentary position rather than the stand up position.

And I note that you ask the question when I have written something essentially in accord with your own position, rather than taking the opposition. :)

Still, now that the subject has been broached I'll give it some thought.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sad that so much joy kills so many people

Anonymous said...

I think this stupid post is supposed to be funny. It's so overwrought, it makes you want to scream.

I guess it's true: Danes have no sense of humor. As Wm. Burroughs said, "I never met a Dane who wasn't bone dull."

Yokota Fritz said...

So somebody take the audio from that BMW advert already and overlay it with bike video!

downtowncreator said...

on the other side, good transits commercials exist. Here are some from Madrid transit authority:



amoeba said...

Anonymous said...

....This blog ridicules cyclists who resort to helmets to stay alive.

I haven't noticed any such ridicule, but I'm new here. Neither have I seen unequivocal evidence that cyclists wearing bits of plastic on their heads are going to be protected adequately if they're hit by a car or a truck. Especially since those bits of plastic were never so designed.