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Advertising misrepresents bicycling

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:06am

Image of Bike Box billboard in Portland, OR
From the Birmingham News (AL), 08.13.08:

Positives of bicycling often not portrayed in ads
Most images of cycling presented in mass market ads follow one of two distinct approaches--one positive, albeit often nostalgic, the other unfortunately negative. This dichotomy neatly reflects the conflicted perception of the bicycle in our society.

On the positive side, images of riding through sunny wildflower-filled meadows or along quiet tree-lined streets are used to evoke warm feelings about simpler times, healthy living and good clean fun. This approach is used to sell everything from medicines and personal hygiene products to real estate developments and banking services, with the bicycle emblematic of life lived better.

On the dark side, negative ads typically depict riding a bike to actually go somewhere as a desperation move to be avoided. Some poor guy is shown ridiculously crouched on a child's bike or glumly struggling up a hill, his punishment for not buying the advertised product (usually car insurance, car parts, or even the car itself) which would have kept him among the happy motorized masses.

The potency of this biker-equals-loser image may help explain why, in a country with more than 100 million bikes, so few Americans ever use one to go to work or run an errand. ( Read more.)
Excellent article from Alabama by Doug Daughhetee, who initiates a new cycling column in the Birmingham News with this provocative piece. How many of us bicycle commuters have not been offended by some ridiculous television commercial?

My personal least favorite commercial at present is a noxious ad from Autozone, which seems to plague every baseball game I watch. (Other than " South Park", my only consistent television habit is baseball.) The commercial shows some teenage boy (of course he's male) spending the hot summer fixing a broken down car at the side of the road, with a sign in the window declaring "If you can fix it, it's yours!" Making frequent trips on his bicycle to the local Autozone for helpful advice and parts, the kid gets the jalopy running: "At least the next time I come to Autozone, it won't be on my bike!" Yeah, right. In my ending of this silly commercial, the kid spends lots of time and money fixing the junker and just before he makes the final critical repair...the county tows it to the scrap yard. Am I cruel? Or realistic?

What's your least favorite broadcast or internet commercial these days?

Beyond television commercials--always heavy with automobile-related spots-- television programming and films are bereft of positive images of bicyclists. As I wrote on this blog in 2006:
Generally, when bicyclists appear on celluloid, they are presented as marginal outcasts or eccentrics. In films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin or In & Out (1997, starring Kevin Kline), the films use bike commuting to accentuate the main character's idiosyncrasy. Or the so-bad-it's-hilarious 1986 Kevin Bacon vehicle, Quicksilver, which manages to insult both stockbrokers and bike messengers in one swoop. In The Wizard of Oz, what does the Wicked Witch ride when she's not on her broom? A bicycle (as her Kansas alter-ego). ( Read more.)
The challenge for bike commuters isn't just about finding space on our streets. It's also about finding space in our culture. It's clear from all the recent news coverage of bicycling that we have an opportunity right now, thanks to rising gas prices. The recent growth of bicycling blogs, sites, publications, and advocacy groups is very encouraging. The moment is ripe, and we need to be present. On the streets, and in the culture.

Image: Web capture.
Visit:Ad Nauseam: State Farm on the Humiliation of Biking to Work, Streetsblog
Visit:More funny bike advertising, Bike Man Dan
Visit:Bicycling against car culture, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:San Francisco bike mural, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Why I Ride: Bicycling in New York, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Zen and the Art of Bike Commuting, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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