GM Portrays Cyclists as Clueless Dorks

As seen around the biking blogosphere last week, General Motors’ latest ad campaign in college newspapers urged students to “Stop pedaling…start driving,” and it offered a smirking, cute girl (in a car) looking out at an embarrassed college boy on a bike hiding his face. The message: Bike commuters are dorks, and you should drive.

general motors anti bike advertisement.jpg

General Motors ad was immediately called “anti-bike”

REALITY SUCKS,” reads the ad headline, referring to, we think, the ostensive “suckyness” of pedaling to school. The ad appeared in college newspapers like the UCLA Daily Bruin, and bikers around the country last week immediately jumped on it, forcing GM to apologize profusely via its Twitter feed and eventually, as reported in the L.A. Times, pull the ad campaign in its entirety.

Many commenters online were incensed not only by the ad and its subtext but by the fact that it was GM, the company that required taxpayers to bail it out in 2009 to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, that was baiting young people to go into depth themselves and buy a GM truck or car. Said a repeated Twitter message at the company’s @GM account, “We’re listening & making changes to the ads. Created them w/student input and didn’t mean any offense. Thanks for flagging.”

giant general motors anti bike advertisement.jpg

Giant Bicycles’ response to the GM campaign

Astutely playing on the meme of the story, Giant Bicycles quickly released a counter parody ad that cites “Reality Does Suck,” and it goes on to do a quid pro quo on bike costs versus the costs of owning and fueling a car.

Readers, what do you think? Are bikers overreacting? Is GM’s ad in utter poor taste, or is the “Stop pedaling…start driving” campaign simply a clever way for the company to get some attention? Because that’s exactly what the “REALITY SUCKS” campaign seems to be doing.

—Stephen Regenold

Posted by David Haines - 10/17/2011 11:08 AM

Doesn’t seem much different to me than a cigarette company using a ‘cool’ looking model to show how awesome you look when you are sucking on the end of their product.

GM sells cars. Too bad the marketing department (at the least) are the ones so clueless as to how many people passionately commute to work or school via bicycle that they didn’t see the backlash coming. Giant could have gone further and listed saved insurance costs, saved parking costs, oil changes, etc….

Posted by Troy - 10/17/2011 04:55 PM

What they should show is how cool a GM looks with a bunch of bikes loaded on it, mtn or road. I’ve got a Saturn Outlook and it’s been a great car that for an SUV gets good mileage (about 22hwy) and since it seats 8 I can haul a lot of bikes and friends, course I don’t get 22mpg then, but my starting point is higher than a 14mpg truck.
Cyclists aren’t clueless, although we can be dorks, but do we care? No, that’s what makes us dorks.

Posted by gnarlydog - 10/17/2011 07:37 PM

A campaign conceived in the small minded environment of Detroit?
I am sure this ad would be so effective in France, for example :-)

Posted by Tiny - 10/18/2011 04:03 AM

It’s a poor ad – although there a significant portions of the biking world that are both ‘dorky’ looking and dangerous in traffic, and while cycling a laudable activity they do leave it open for criticism (I’m pro-bike, but lets not pretend all cyclists are saints…).

Posted by T.C. Worley - 10/18/2011 05:20 AM

Cops on Segways are the real dorks. Word.

Posted by jpea - 10/18/2011 07:46 AM

Edit: Anyone on a Segway is a dork. It was probably an ad created by some unknown “vertical” marketing team inside of GM. Probably a bunch of interns who otherwise work on a GM Rewards Card program or some crap like that. Wouldn’t worry that it’s the general sentiment of GM, though it’s probably not far off considering what their industry is.

Posted by pat - 10/18/2011 08:13 PM

What about a Chevy truck loaded with Segways?

Posted by Ellen - 10/19/2011 11:52 AM

You’d think GM would want to associate itself with the coolness of biking instead of disassociating itself with healthy and generally affluent potential customers who also bike. Most of the bike-commuters I know have enough $ to afford 2 cars, they simply choose to bike. Last laugh is at, not with, GM.

Posted by Tass - 10/19/2011 11:55 AM

I think Giant’s response is great. While it does seem GM’s ad wasn’t fully thought through, I suspect most dorky college students are quite clever and would see right through this.

Besides, most of them are going to buy Subarus anyway. ;-)

Posted by jason heflin - 10/19/2011 11:57 AM

boo GM!

Posted by Scott - 10/19/2011 12:01 PM

I think GM knows their audience, a bunch of wanna be tough guys. It’s not like many cyclists drive chevy vehicles, they are too smart for that. Morons are the target audience for overpriced poorly made American junkers. Anyone that does a minute of research is going to buy a foreign tagged car; Toyota, Honda, Subaru etc. proof that design is key since all of those cars are produced in the US. People are pissed off about taxes, but then they buy a vehicle that sucks down gas paying 18 cents a gallon??? Our country is fucked.

Posted by Rude Dog - 10/19/2011 12:25 PM

It seems to me if Bikers want to use the road, fork over the same gas tax and cost of vehicle tags. Maintain the speed limit, or; become a speed bump. Get out of the way!

Posted by Bill Becher - 10/19/2011 12:51 PM

They claimed it was “tongue in cheek” suspect some cyclists lack a sense of humor.. anyway GM said sorry and pulled the ads. But their cars still suck.

Tribune Newspapers

October 17, 2011
General Motors Co. is killing an advertisement aimed at college students after receiving complaints that it makes fun of people who use bicycles for transportation.

That ad has a headline stating, “reality sucks” and depicts a nerdy looking guy wearing a helmet and riding a bicycle being passed by a cute young woman in the passenger seat of a car. It then goes on to say, “Stop pedaling … start driving” and provides information about discount pricing for GM products such as the new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic subcompact sedan and the giant GMC Sierra 1500 truck.

The ad ran in a variety of college newspapers and was turned into a poster that was displayed campuses, according to the automaker.

The advertisement was widely panned on a variety of cycling blogs and in complaints to the company.

“The content of the ad was developed with college students and was meant to be a bit cheeky and humorous and not meant to offend anybody,” said Tom Henderson, a GM spokesman.

“We have gotten feedback and we are listening and there are changes underway. They will be taking the bicycle ad out of the rotation…. We respect bikers and many of us here are cyclists,” he said…
By Jerry Hirsch


Posted by Erv - 10/19/2011 01:04 PM

It shows how desperate GM really is.

Posted by Dave - 10/19/2011 01:05 PM

On first read, I thought it was an ad from the “olden days”.
Great response by Giant!

Posted by Jeffzx9 - 10/19/2011 01:30 PM

OK, students. I’m not sure what they’re teaching in Econ these days, but run the numbers (including loan interest, fuel, repairs, insurance) and you’ll see it makes no sense to buy a new car. Buy a good used car for the trips you need to haul stuff or people. Ride your bike the rest of the time, and save your money to invest in an asset with some equity, instead of an immediately depreciating asset like a new car. Am I a dork? Ask my banker.

Posted by Matthew - 10/19/2011 07:15 PM

Good marketing. It received attention and the fall out isn’t so bad.

It may not send the best message, but it doesn’t say anything inherently bad.

Sure bikers may be offended (I do bike and take public transit to work) but it is pretty clever.

Posted by LCRMisfit - 10/19/2011 07:40 PM

Wow, calm down. It looks like GM got exactly what they wanted, attention. word back at ya T.C.

Posted by Brian - 12/20/2011 11:03 AM

Finding this a couple of months late… I firmly support cycling over driving, but nobody is cycling 15k miles a year, so listing the truck fuel cost for that distance is a bit disingenuous.
I know the Giant ad is meant to be snarky in response to GM’s tone, but still.

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