11 March 2010

The Car Empire Strikes Back Again

This is brilliant "Car Empire Strikes Back" marketing from Mercedes. After watching it if I had to choose between sitting in a Mercedes or riding all sub-cultural like that - give me the Mercedes anyday.

As I highlight in my lecture Marketing Bicycle Culture - Four Goals to Promote Urban Cycling the car industry learned everything they know about marketing their products from the bicycle industry, which pre-dated them.

They have spent a century perfecting the art of marketing and now that they are faced with real competition - the rebirth of urban cycling - they are tweaking their adverts accordingly.

The acting in the above advert is abysmal, but the point is clear. It reinforces the misconception of urban cycling as being a lawless, adrenaline-based and sub-cultural pursuit. The smug tone is brilliantly devised and executed. It's a different approach than the Audi advert we've mentioned before, but it's still just as effective in the way it avoids featuring Citizen Cyclists and instead employs a caricature of a 'cyclist'.

I'd rather see a dapper gent happily cycling at a civilised pace to work, like Michael Musto. Or a girl in a skirt. Or any damn regular citizen.

Unless we start learning from the car industry's marketing brilliance, as they once learned from the bicycle industry, the battle is lost before the foot hits the pedal. Marketing urban cycling for regular citizens like we market every other product - positively. At every turn.

Begone fearmongerers and nanny-state PSAs. Let's sell this properly. For more liveable cities, for the public health, for The Common Good.


Kim said...

There is a young audience who will be turned on to cycling by that ad, but it is not going to encourage everyone to take up cycling ;-)

gingerbeard said...

at 43 I found it made me want to ride. The courier style may have been over the top, but it did effectively show the place of both vehicles. The bike made much more sense in the congested city, where cars are barely moving, the car on an uncongested highway made sense. Of course they had to attack the cyclist for his aggressive style of riding, but I didn't actually see him break any rules (except his lack of signaling).

If anything to me it showed that cars don't belong in the city. But then I ride a bicycle.

Fernando said...

Quoting yourself is really cheap.

Anonymous said...

Well, the fact Mercedes feels the need to fight cycling shows the rising importance of bikes. Here in the Czech Republic no company would even bother to mention cycling in ad, because the society just don't think about it as a mean of transport. It has the image of leisure time activity only :(

Green Idea Factory said...

Where is this documercial being shown in USA markets? Just on You Tube?

The motivation seems to be to create a (also, literally) warm feeling for Mercedes Benz (just like when they were a sponsor of Velo-City in Munich in 2007). The bike came first - they know this from watching results of various Carfree Day competitions - but then the chill out lounge is provided by Mercedes.

An even more comfy lounge would be a café in Brooklyn (and parking might not be easy - this car parked with the bridge shown at oblique angle is really cliché).

Mercedes Benz knows well the target audience: Sophisticated urban people - in NYC and elsewhere - who know about and like the re-emergence of cycling. So it is kind of a stealth attack, though of course they would just say that private cars have their permanent place in the city. That is what the closing plenary speaker from Mercedes Benz said in Munich and it is repeated or at least inferred here: http://tinyurl.com/yl5do4f

That said, I do not hate Daimler. On the contrary I like their buses and firetrucks! Their Car2Go carshare scheme http://www.car2go.com is fine, but only in a city that properly limits all motorized access, both in geography and in the future when, ideally, cities are optimized so that no one needs or desires any type of automobile.

I do worry about electric automobiles - those Car2Go Smarts are Diesel - used for carshare as I think they can be a trojan horse for introducing private electric automobiles.

Vladimir 'vudu' Zlokazov said...

I would better call it 'car culture strikes back in despair'. We could even thank Mercedes for being truthful about which mode of transport is more viable in the city. The only thing is that the bicyclist shouldn't have been necessarily a bike messenger. Intermodal challenges have shown that an ordinary cyclist would win too.

P.S. Why would I need a cup holder on my bike? I have a water bottle and if I want some coffee I can drop at any cafe I like, even when there's no parking around ;)

arhiluka said...

Looks like the cyclist guy must have been waiting for quite some time to get cold after all that pedal pushing.

nathan_h said...

Funny, the perfect antidote to this ad was posted yesterday on Streetsblog. And unlike the ad, which is distractingly fake and implausible—Why was he riding all over the park sidewalks? There's a loop drive around Central Park, maybe you have heard of it?—the Musto video is authentic and reserved.

Elliott@ Austin on Two Wheels said...

Pretty gross, but you didn't really expect an multi-billion dollar industry to die without a fight, did you?

Bristol Traffic said...

Coverage of the video on BikeSnobNYC, which faults the routing of the merc. Maybe the SatNav got confused.

Expect some coverage from Bristol Traffic in the week where we point out the obvious:

1. the cyclist will be too sweaty to be allowed inside a nice car, and unless they locked their bike up it would be nicked anyway, so they would stay outside to drink their coffee.

2. the video didn't include the 10 minutes looking for somewhere semi-legal to park. That means "not legal", but "parking rules not enforced".

Someone could do a really good spoof of this. As it is, it's step two in the ghandi flow: first they ignore you, then they ridicule you. That's a kind of progress.

full state diagram

Trolly said...

If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if you're Mikael, everything looks like either a sweaty cyclist in lycra or an auto manufacturer conspiracy.

At the end of the day, this is a not terribly brilliant, but surely inoffensive ad.

Clarence said...

This ad is idiotic. Even some of the things the cyclist does are ridiculous for that type of cyclist (putting bike under guardrail at Central Park when there is a perfectly fine curb cut 18 inches to the right)

jeff said...

That Mercedes Benz would even acknowledge competition from anything other than a vehicle with four wheels is pretty amazing. It illustrates the power of bikes, and the change that is happening in U.S. cities.

Scott said...

gingerbeard said...
"...but I didn't actually see him break any rules (except his lack of signaling)."

Not to be nitpicky, but I noticed a few:
0:20 -- runs a red light
1:25 -- passes a right-turning vehicle on the right
2:25 -- hitches a ride on a cab

Clarence said...

Of course our "ad" during the Bike vs. Car vs. Transit event in 2008 was much more honest, realistic and docu style than this.


Canaan said...

Also driving on a NYC expressway, even in a comfortable benz wouldn't be that relaxing. You'd be worrying about lane changes and other cars around you merging

miss sarah said...

I'm glad they featured the cyclist using at least ONE bike path on the bridge there. Silly, since NYC has exploded with exciting bicycle infrastructure over the past few years.

And I don't think the cyclist would actually be cold and need to sit in the car, because riding like that makes you hot, potentially even sweaty.

Green Idea Factory said...

Correction: My apologies! One of the main sponsors of Velo-City 2007 in Munich was BMW, not Mercedes Benz.

Biker Bob said...

We need to take this challenge to the bike industry. Most of the advocacy groups would not have the money, resources, or knowledge needed to produce a quality advert and then get it on the air. This is where the bike industry needs to step up and invest some money to advertise cycling in a way that appeals to large percentage of the population, and not just the sport cyclists.

Might I suggest that somebody, oh lets say, maybe like.... YOU, sets up a meeting with all the big bike companies during Interbike, or something similar, and explains this concept to them.


Paul Souders said...

Others here have said it already but it bears repeating: a few years ago carmakers were competing with other carmakers. Now they're competing with no cars at all.

And phony as this ad is it underlines another truth: if it weren't for all the cars, the bike (or, gee, even the Mercedes) would be even faster. Regardless of what mode you're using to get there, your progress is mostly hindered by cars.

Paul Souders said...

Biker Bob: The Gap did the bike industry a favor and already produced this ad (in 2002! With Scarlett Johansen!)


Flying Pigeon LA said...

Two things:

(1) The danger the cyclist encounters is largely automobile traffic.

(2) I wish I had an advertising budget to combat this bullshit!!

In L.A. we mandate automobile parking around all new development, and it costs developers a lot of money to build that "free" parking. I've made a proposal to allow bike parking in exchange for car parking - a proposal that would make development more profitable. I hope that by making this change, the bike riding community can tap into the resources of large land developers to produce advertising like this.

Mikael is right, we need to advertise Bike Culture 2.0 or we don't stand a chance.

bikermark said...

Funny, when carmakers show their products doing extreme maneuvers, they are always careful to post a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: do not attempt, professional driver, closed road--or something like that. So what not for the bicyclist?

Merc seems pretty interested in pointing out all the illegal behavior of the cyclist: harassing peds, running lights, splitting lanes at speed, and (what!?!) passing a right-turning car on the right??? Idiot.

sexify said...

"The bike made much more sense in the congested city, where cars are barely moving, the car on an uncongested highway made sense.

If anything to me it showed that cars don't belong in the city. But then I ride a bicycle."

Well said, Gingerbeard. I heartily agree.

William said...

Gingerbeard, I have to say the same as Scott: There are plenty of traffic infractions done by the cyclist - large as well as small.
The ceaseless swerving, for example, would be illegal in countries that has traffic-laws against scaring other people in traffic.

Bikermark has a good point as well: Where's the "Do not try to recreate the stunts seen in this video" sign?

By the way, do notice that is not a single comment (as of right now) on the video's youtube page.

Clamrock said...

A lot of young people in the city are taking up cycling after seeing videos like this. Not everyone wants to sit upright on a grandma bike and pedal at 2 mph.

Anonymous said...

I usually agree with Mikael's critical stance on the "fake messeenger" style marketing, and as I'm getting older I also find myself going at a more steady pace when on my way to work and such.

But every now and then, say once or twice a week, it's damn good fun to give it all I got (going home from work) - even if I get all sweaty and have to swerve around a few cars to keep my pace up.

And when I saw this ad, the first thing to come to mind was "Yay, that cyclist looks like he's having a ton of fun", whereas the driver is just sitting there fiddling with the knobs and the phone.

I guess there's a time and place for every style of riding - at least for some of us.

Trolly said...

Funny, when carmakers show their products doing extreme maneuvers, they are always careful to post a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: do not attempt, professional driver, closed road--or something like that. So what not for the bicyclist?

Perhaps because they're not selling bikes. Just a thought.

Neil said...

The same video could easily turned around. Replace the cyclist with someone moving legally and at a comfortable pace, for the driver, add a traffic jam with loud horns, maybe a road rage incident, and all of a sudden, you have a bike ad. Maybe the cyclist arrives first, maybe they don't...either way, they arrive with a smile on their face.

It's not just that it's an ad that effectivey communicates its point...it's that the same ad could be produced for either product.