Advertise on BikePortland

Giant remakes GM ad and other reactions to the story

Posted by on October 13th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Detail of Giant Bicycles response
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.

Is this the type of response they were looking for?

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.”

Others have responded by sharing a revision of the ad. Even Giant Bicycles, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, got into the act

And here’s one by Kieran O’Neill from the AMS Bike Co-op in Vancouver, BC…

By Kieran O’Neill

And from Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled fame…

By Russ Roca

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • jonny a October 13, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    not that I wouldof before, but now I will never buy a GM product. The bailouts coupled with the purest form of audacity makes the company almost more repulsive than the banks that fund them.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Hugh Johnson October 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

      The GM bailout was mandatory for Obama as the unions pumped 400 million into getting him elected. UAW is in control.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • q`Tzal October 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Take a clue from Chinese auto manufacturers; use the US government to protect you as you make high quality knock offs of Siemens light rail vehicles.

    Much as some of us cyclists might not like or agree with the principal, application or surface hazards induced with poorly planned light rail mass transit it is currently the most cost effective way to move a lot of people.
    As such it is very likely a growth industry as Peak Oil … peaks. Governments primarily get revenue from income and sales taxes. These activities require that people move around. A cheaper the overall cost of transportation creates a positive feedback loop where more economic activity occurs because it is cheaper to do things allowing people to have more money to do taxable things.

    The UAW can gripe and shareholders can scream but if GM doesn’t follow the profit they will be dead quickly. This profit IS NOT in automobiles, gas or electric.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob October 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Giant’s ad response to GM’s is good, and seems to possibly be legit. Does Giant confirm that it’s their ad?

    Distantly related, but this just crossed my mind: Are the GMC Denali bikes licensed by GM? For some of you reading here that may not know, the GMC Denali bike is a low end bike, or series of bikes made by the Kent company. It’s not total garbage…solid, just ‘o.k.’ frame, usable wheels and shifters, but it’s generally a poor quality bike.

    If it’s licensing this bike, it seems like a continuation of poor judgement for GM to association its brand with such a low quality bike.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Paul H October 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      The Giant ad could’ve even gone further on automotive pricing, something like

      MSRP: 27,000
      With features you want: 29,800
      Paid with a 60-month, no-down load: 33,488

      Then again, it’s easy to add a couple hundred dollars of equipment to a Giant (as I know all too well), so to be fair you’d have to add cost features to the bike:

      MSRP: 470
      With features you want: 710

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • MIddle of the Road Guy October 16, 2011 at 10:00 am


        but my 20k car allows me to get to a much higher paying job in Lake Oswego. I basically make up the difference in 4 years. Considering I will own the car for 10 years, my marginal income is higher over the long run owning the car.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Pete October 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

          As long as it’s worth your time to sit in traffic to get there, sure. The car isn’t what enables you to get the higher paying job, it’s what enables you to choose to conveniently live further away from a more expensive area.

          No rule says you can’t leave your car in your garage and ride a bike to work. In my case doing that’s saved so much money I could afford to move near my higher paying job.

          Cars depreciate MUCH faster than houses, by the way.

          Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Opus the Poet October 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      Yes the GMC bikes are licensed products. Along with the Corvette and Cadillac bikes. I think the Stingray bikes actually licensed their name to GM rather than from GM.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • pdx2wheeler October 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Oh yeah, many at GM are cyclists too… Too bad all they know how to do is back-peddle!

    Recommended Thumb up 13

    • q`Tzal October 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      This blog post
      They (GM) said the “didn’t mean to offend,” that it was created with the help of students …

      Meaning that this was yet another case of GM’s lack of planning in the cost saving department: subcontract out an advertising campaign to local college interns that work for free.

      Probably promised a job to the best ad writer with no explanation of what was “best” or how it would be decided.
      Some student went with the “buttkiss” angle or decided that the WebTrends “we are controversial therefore we are successful” model was the way to go.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

    • craig October 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      cue muted trupmet: waaa waaa waaaaaa *like 🙂

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Nom de Plume October 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I hate the “We’re sorry if it offended you” type of apology.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

    • q`Tzal October 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      Ignoring hate speech is the same as supporting it.
      History proves this.
      Public shaming and ostracization is slow but eventually the most successful.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Richard October 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Which translates to: “We didn’t do anything wrong, but we can see how a thin-skinned dolt could miscontrue our intentions and take offense.”

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Richard October 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        Just to clarify my point: GM’s “apology” follows the template of most public apologies today — it is a defense masquerading as an apology.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • jon October 14, 2011 at 10:15 am

          and promoting their gas powered chevy volt joke

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mabsf October 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I don’t agree with Byron about ignoring the GM ad: I don’t think that it is the time anymore to take the highroad, specially after all the support GM received. But it is actually not so much GM that I blame – it’s their ad agency… what were they thinking? Or were they thinking… I think one agency just lost a very big account!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • wsbob October 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      “…But it is actually not so much GM that I blame – it’s their ad agency… ” mabsf

      Nah…! The ad agency just comes up with ideas representing what the execs tell the ad agency they want the advertisement to convey to the car buying market.

      And then GM’s execs blame a clueless ad on the students they had help them conceive the ad. Actually, maybe GM is right. Maybe the students that worked on conceiving this ad consciously determined to play a bunch of gullible GM execs. Taking a page from the Onion. Hoo-yeah, see if they’ll go for this!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kevin Manning October 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    The GM ad illustrated the “Us vs The mindless, heartless Corporations”. It really takes some severe idiocy to single out a large segment (bicyclists) of the society for bias and discrimination to make a buck. Yet GM, like most large and inhuman corporations, answer to their stockholders and will “by any means necessary” put profits over people. This is what needs to change, and US corporations must be forced to either learn decency, responsibility and sensitivity, or else they will be forced in bankruptcy without a taxpayer bailout.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Mike October 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    The email to Blumenauer is hilarious!

    I saw an advertisement and it offended me. Make sure Congress and the President get right on it!

    As if our Government doesn’t have enough to worry about at the moment…. economy, wars, Iran, unemployment, drug war in Mexico, etc. etc.

    “… the USA won’t tolerate General Motors’ treachery against the people of the USA as manifested with impunity by their ad…”
    This ad probably only offended a very small % of Americans which means GM can get away with “treachery”.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • craig October 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      I wrote the email to the congressman. It contains superlative declarations and wild admonitions. It’s supposed to take things a bit too far. But not even a little do I imagine that a politician would take action based on such an individual message.

      What I do imagine is that some politicians will start to pay some level of attention to an issue if many of their constituents contact them about it. I sometimes hope that I’ll be one of many with a similar voice. I’m actually simple enough to think that telling reasonable, sincere politicians what we think is a worthwhile and–collectively–effective practice.

      Blumenauer seems to have a long record of being one of those kinds of politicians.

      How effective can this be in any given case? And which issues will get noticed as a result? How many of his other constituents will share the same thoughts with him? Anybody’s guess.

      I realize some people feel it’s a naive, pointless waste of time to tell public leaders what we want. I feel that way sometimes too. But not normally.

      To me it seems ignorant and a bit asinine (thought not hilarious) to ridicule those who would simply take an extra five minutes to let their congress member know what they think about a public policy issue.

      I don’t suppose that my one paragraph to you about your behavior will make a difference; but maybe if enough people tell you the same thing about that behavior, you may start to notice.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • NW Biker October 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I love the response ads, but it would have been nice to see one that emphasized how GM benefited from a government bail-out while they’re encouraging college students to sink into debt. What hypocrites!

    Unfortunately, GM just got a lot of free publicity from this idiocy.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Richard October 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    GM’s ad seemed stupid and likely ineffective. If that is their best shot, let them take it.

    When people in my office ask me why I bike commute, even in lousy weather, I just say, “Remember that great, fun feeling when you learned to ride a bike? I still feel that way.” Not everyone wants to be part of a crusade, but most people want a little more “play” in their lives.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • deborah October 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    They KNEW they were intensionally demeaning a large segment of the college crowd – but were betting that those that were offended would be too humiliated and self-concious to identify themselves as bikers by choice and stand against the ad. It’s clearly meant to send a message to an impressionable and highly socially concious population – riding bikes isn’t cool and isn’t going to get you dates or help you succeed in life. It’s anything but subtle, and they knew EXACTLY what their deomographic would gleen from it. Within a social conext it’s absolutely infuriating that they think they can get away with it by just saying “oops – sorry”.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • eric October 13, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    It’s true, old 10-speeds can really suck, especially if they’re french. skip the car, brah, and get something comfortable to ride!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Charley October 13, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Giant for the win!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • was carless October 14, 2011 at 12:01 am

    It would appear that Mr. Byron is wrong, and this movement has indeed shed light on GM’s nasty marketing ploy. Those facebook messages aren’t playing the victim, but people who are genuinely frustrated by how corporate america spins things their way.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Alex Reed October 14, 2011 at 6:29 am

    I’m gonna remember this idiocy when I buy my next car. Probably the other companies are almost bad for our society, but at least they’re largely not spreading poisonous ideas in their ads. Sorry, GM, you just lost one more customer – and God knows you can’t afford to lose any.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Greg Benison October 14, 2011 at 9:56 am

    “He who consumes most is alpha male” is a well-established advertising theme. I remember one radio ad where a Hulk Hogan-type voice said, “My Toyota Tundra will crush your wimpy car!”

    Here’s a few ideas for more:

    Gas station amenities: Passengers in truck laugh while throwing styrofoam coffee cups out window at loser carrying reusable mug on bicycle

    Baby products: Smiling disposable-diaper user shovels huge mountain of diapers off truck bed into dumpster outside laundromat, where cloth-diaper-using hippie waits for another load to finish

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Jim F October 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Epic, yet not surprising, overreaction by the bike community. Wow. Makes me embarassed to be a cyclist.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Arem October 14, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Not surprising? Then it was predictable and they only suceeded in alienating potential customers.
      Poor riding behavior on the roads is what makes me embarrassed, not responding to misguided adverts that imply that nothing but these vehicles belong on the public paid roadways.
      If it’s so embarrassing you cannot bear it though, then quit. Take the train or bus or even get an olde timey ox & cart.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Brad October 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

      Because we clearly cannot think for ourselves! I just bough a huge Chevy Siverado pick-up truck because of this ad and sold all three of my expensive road bikes on Craigslist for under $100 because advertising compelled me. I was manipulated by an evil corporation and my carnal desire for the attractive brunette riding in that Chevy. Why won’t the government stop this chicanery?

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Kenneth Crockett October 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I sent this to a member of the GM board:
    Dr. Telles,
    I apologize for this e-mail, but I feel it part of my civic responsibility to share my concerns with a member of the Board of GM. I’ve had a Chevy Cavalier for about ten years, and before that I had a Saturn. I’m in the market for a new car and was looking at GM. No longer.

    Today, I was disgusted to learn of an ad run by GM. In this ad, cycling is undermined by a thoughtless and greedy marketing ploy that borders on negligence.

    I commute every day into a city by bike. I have a 10m round trip that takes about 20-30m each way. In my Chevy, that commute takes close to an hour and costs $10-15 in parking. The money I save commuting by bike allows me to pay for the gas and insurance I use to keep driving. The time is invaluable. What would you pay for more than a week of your life back each year? That’s what I save by commuting.

    You know what else I save? Health costs. A decade of back pain disappeared as I became a regular biker, and my doctors marvel at my blood pressure and resting heart rate. As a doctor, what do you recommend to your patients?

    In a country where car sales have plummeted in no small part due to cost of living increases (primarily fuel and health), GM would be better off marketing lifestyle vehicles to us than belittling a key, well-informed, and active market group. I’ve taken that Chevy across this country multiple times, taken it across snowscapes and up rocky escarpments I’d’ve feared in a Jimmy. I’m ready for something new, though. I’m 26, Caucasian, and male with advanced degrees, i.e. a key audience for GM. I am fortunate to make enough to buy a new truck this fall, and I will be buying a Ford.

    I appreciate your time and consideration. I understand GM has pulled the aforementioned ad, but that its creation was allowed displays tastelessness approaching the unconscionable.

    Keep fighting the good fight,
    Kenneth Crockett

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Pete October 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    GM: We’re listening… and we’re ‘moderating’ comments now too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Will October 29, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Going OT a bit:

    “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.”

    Yes, how dare GM negatively portray prostitutes! Double-entendre! 😀

    Recommended Thumb up 0