Mercedes Exploits the Daredevil Cyclist Stereotype

You might have seen it making the rounds over the last couple of days
— the new Mercedes ad in which NYC bike messenger Austin Horse challenges a driver in
one of the company’s luxury vehicles to a race from Harlem to the
Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn.

There are many irritating things about the ad, including the lousy
acting and the roundabout route the car takes (why the Brooklyn-Queens
Expressway and not the FDR?). At more than seven minutes (it’s in two
parts on YouTube), it’s also tediously long.

But worst is the perpetuation of that old stereotype, the "maniac"
bike rider. The driver says at the beginning that he thinks the contest
will be unfair: "Sure, he gets to ride like a bat out of hell and we
have to follow the traffic rules."

And of course, that’s the way it goes. No doubt, the risk-taking
footage is fun to watch, and some
local blogs
have posted favorably about the ad (even Bike
Snob NYC
is mild in his critique).

But Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize
has it right when he says the Mercedes spot is an effective attack on
the idea that riding a bicycle in a major city could ever be comfortable
or normal:

This is brilliant "Car Empire Strikes Back" marketing from
Mercedes.
After watching it if I had to choose between sitting in a Mercedes or
riding all sub-cultural like that — give me the Mercedes any day.…

[The
car industry has] spent a century perfecting the art of marketing and
now that they
are faced with real competition — the rebirth of urban cycling — they
are tweaking their adverts accordingly.

The acting in the
above advert is abysmal, but the point is clear. It reinforces the
misconception of urban cycling as being a lawless, adrenaline-based and
sub-cultural pursuit. The smug tone is brilliantly devised and
executed.…

Unless
we start learning from the car industry’s marketing brilliance, as they
once learned from the bicycle industry, the battle is lost before the
foot hits the pedal. Marketing urban cycling for regular citizens like
we market every other product — positively. At every turn.

More from around the network: Utility
Cycling
asks whether Google’s new bike directions are a
"game-changer." Hub
and Spokes
has a contrarian view on bike-sharing in Minneapolis.
And The
Transport Politic
has the rundown on the top 10 transit projects
completed in the U.S. and Canada over the last 10 years.

  • andrew

    Yeah, because all urban cyclists are *models* of courteous, safe, and law-abiding behavior.

  • JohnB

    Andrew,

    Certainly Sarah’s insinuation that aggressive bike riding like that is a “myth” and a “misconception” is a little self-serving. Stereotypes exist because they have a basis in truth. Where they deceive is more in the attendant assumption that ALL cyclists ride like that. And of course they don’t. But some do and messengers feature prominently amongst that group.

    So if Sarah really wants to change the “myth” then she knows where to start – with those who do ride like that.

    But, it was a cute and clever ad, and topical given last night’s discussion here about commuting by Merc versus by bike. Neither is better – it just depends on your POV. But I wouldn’t want to not have the choice. My favorite transit option is to have all the options.

  • mcas

    @Andrew: I’ll fix that for you: “Yeah, because all PEOPLE are *models* of courteous, safe, and law-abiding behavior.”

    Find a driver who has never broken a law (turn signals, speeding, un-signaled lane changes) and then we’ll talk…

  • JohnB

    mcas,

    One person breaking the law doesn’t make it OK for others to break the law. That’s the argument I hear 7 year olds employing in the school playground.

    And what I don’t see car drivers doing is driving along the sidewalk, blowing through red lights and going the wrong way down one-way streets.

    Most reasonable observers would agree that there is a segment of the cycling population that appear to have a flagrant disregard for the rules of the road. I believe Andrew’s comments are directed at them.

    I feel sure that you are not among them, support responsible and legal cycling, and agree with him and I that all road users should obey the law.

  • Alexei

    If you want to see a much more interesting version of this, check out the Top Gear race across London (bike vs car vs public transit vs boat). Laws followed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okXJ25FmeNM

    This is a sort of a smarmy remake.

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