Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 13th, 2011 at 12:09 pm
to GM ad.
-See it below-
It's been two days since we first shared the "Stop pedaling... Start driving." General Motors ad and the story — and the ad itself — is still getting a lot of attention. GM themselves has responded by saying they'll pull the ad out of rotation, several people (and one bike company) have offered their own versions of the ad, the national and local media has taken an interest, and the story has spurred an interesting discussion about the state — and the style — of bike advocacy in America.
Not long after word of the ad spread, GM began apologizing profusely about it via their Twitter stream. They said the "didn't mean to offend," that it was created with the help of students, and that they were open to the feedback and working on changes. Then the Los Angeles reported that GM decided to pull the ad saying that, "We respect bikers and many of us here are cyclists."
It remains to be seen if we'll hear anything more from GM about this; but it's worth noting that this isn't new territory for them. Not only is GM widely alleged to have purposely destroyed public transit in America, but, as Carlton Reid, editor of UK trade magazine BikeBiz pointed out to me yesterday, one of their subsidiaries (Chevrolet) ran an ad in 2005 that referred to transit riders as "creeps and weirdos." In addition, GM has yet to comment about how they negatively portray a woman walking on a sidewalk in the same "Stop pedaling" ad campaign.
GM's ad has also spurred a broad and negative response from many people. Their Facebook wall has been bombarded with criticism.
One BikePortland reader even sent an email to U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer that read in part:
"GM needs more than some inconsequential public outcry in response to their anti-people campaign; they need a sound thrashing by the federal government, and one that will teach them well not to bite the hand that fed them."
And here's one by Kieran O'Neill from the AMS Bike Co-op in Vancouver, BC...
And from Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled fame...
Not surprisingly, media outlets have jumped on the story. The L.A. Times blog post linked to above was edited and appears in today's print version. The Washington Post has a story planned, ABC News picked it up, and I'm talking with local ABC affiliate KATU about the ad later today.
For DL Byron, a bike culture connoisseur and the man behind the BikeHugger blog and social media empire, the reaction to the ad by bike advocates and other bike-interested folks is off base. "There goes bike culture again," he tweeted, "playing the victim, instead of spinning the @gm ad to their favor." In a discussion he's started on Google Plus, Byron wrote:
"Bicycle advocates just handed GM a win. I'd have ignored it. They look great, we look like dicks. The lead-in to the PI story was, "don't make cyclist mad." Cause, ya know, they're angry zealots. My issue is short-sighted reactionary tactics don't help us. They reinforce why people don't like us."
Byron is right that bicycling has a big PR problem in America. But I don't think it's wise to site idly by while one of America's largest corporations irresponsibly and unnecessarily takes a blatant potshot at bicycling just to sell cars — especially when that company has such a horrible legacy around non-car transportation.
As for whether GM won or lost the PR battle. I could argue either way. They definitely got a lot of attention and given their marketing sophistication, I wouldn't be shocked if they planned the whole thing. However, times are changing and more Americans than ever realize that this isn't just about bikes vs. cars: This is about being a responsible member of our society. As the current Occupy Wall Street movement is showing, many people are no longer willing to let corporate America get away with such shenanigans.
In that email to Congressman Blumenauer, a man wrote,
"I want you to know that my voice is among the 99%, and I want you to tell Congress and the President for me — and for all of us — that the USA won't tolerate General Motors' treachery against the people of the USA as manifested with impunity by their ad in The Stanford Daily."
UPDATE: GM has just posted an official statement/apology on their website. Also, I got a call from GM spokesman Tom Henderson. I'll share his thoughts in a separate post.