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GM Being GM Launches, Then Pulls, Controversial Bicycling Ad

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On: Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 11:22AM | By: Chris Weiss

GM Being GM Launches, Then Pulls, Controversial Bicycling Ad

Remember a couple years ago when GM, once a world leader in the automotive industry, was failing miserably and had to go ask the government for a couple bucks just to stay in business? Well, one of the big problems in Detroit at the time was the lack of forward thinking and self-awareness. In fact, self-awareness and thinking were so absent in Detroit that the minds behind GM thought it was appropriate to fly private jets to Washington to ask for billions of taxpayer dollars to keep the $#!*-show afloat.

Well, after a couple years of making an effort to turn its old fashioned ways around with products like the Chevy Volt, GM is back to doing what it seems to do best: making itself look like an organization full of stodgy good ol' boys completely ignorant to the ways of the world. Luckily, this time, it didn't run the company into the ground. But it did launch a completely out-of-touch ad that it later got cornered into retracting.

The ad itself is a simple showcase of GM's college discount program. That's benign enough, right? Heck, it's even a positive thing.

Where GM's ad team takes a wrong turn is in using content about cycling, stating, "Stop pedaling...start driving." The picture shows a cyclist at a stop light next to a car with an attractive female. The embarrassed cyclist is holding a hand over his face to try to shield his identity. In other words, cycling = embarrassing while driving = babe-magnetizing awesomeness.

Now I guess maybe Chevy was trying to tap into the youthful ignorance of college students, some of whom might have traded a ten-speed for a first car just a few short years ago. So maybe the ad would resonate with the demographic. But given how eco-conscious the world has become, and how cycling to and from work and class has been a focal point of that consciousness, you'd have to think it doesn't really resonate with anyone.

In fact, a bunch of cycling blogs and organizations got irritated about how they were being portrayed, and started venting online about it and angry-calling GM. Basically another big bout of bad publicity for a company that was recently being compared to Big Brother.

Besides pissing all over the green movement and dissing cyclists, the ad is pretty off the mark. Maybe back in the early 20th century when automobiles were just gaining a following, the idea of an ad about trading a bike in for a car might have made sense. But here in 2011, most people aren't riding bikes because they never thought of buying a car, or because they're just one incentive away from getting one. They do it to help the environment and exercise, and because a bike can be faster and more versatile in a crowded, traffic-ridden, parking-deficient college town. And there's a good chance they already have a car back home or in the dorm parking garage. So the option of "stop pedaling and start driving" isn't really an accurate portrayal of much of anyone.

After taking rather vocal criticism for the ad, GM pulled it out of circulation, with a spokesman telling the LA Times, "“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."

Hey GM, pull up a seat and listen closely: Step out of the corporate jets for a while; put down your fine-print pens and your advertising design programs and just watch. In fact, don't just watch; really observe. Take a peek out the window. You see that out there? That's 2011. Things are a little different now than they were last century. Watch, listen, observe, write down your findings and then maybe proceed with your ads and your rule changes and your public funding.


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