Advertising on electric bikes has been banned in France – let’s talk why


Electric bikes are the future. This is what the cycling industry thinks, what new cyclists think and what advocates of sustainable transportation think.

But not everyone thinks that way, as a dispute between the electric bike brand VanMoof and the French advertising regulator has shown.

At the center of this stoush is a sleek TV ad from VanMoof, a Dutch brand of urban bikes best known for creating this bike with the top tube that looks like this. In the ad, a shiny black sports car has images of pollution, traffic jams and emergency vehicles projected onto it, before melting into a pile of black mud from which a VanMoof electric bike emerges under the slogan “It’s time to roll into the future”.

It’s pretty visually striking. It also succinctly addresses many of the concerns people have about over-reliance on cars in the light of, you know, the global climate emergency that we may or may not * be able to get through on a global scale (* are definitely).

It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that the ad was banned from French television because it “creates a climate of fear” around cars.

So what’s really going on here? Let’s break it down.

The players

VanMoof: The original Dutch brand was launched in 2009 with an analog city bike with integrated lighting and lock, and has since experienced an electric renaissance. Their second generation electric bikes, the S3 and X3, are integration masterpieces at a newly competitive price. They always look like VanMoofs, that is, you will find them either having an enticing fantasy, or being quite repulsive. There’s really no middleman.

Professional Advertising Regulatory Authority (ARPP): The French regulatory body in charge of advertising standards, which “represents advertisers, agencies and the media”. Remember this first.

French automotive industry (behind the scenes, presumably by exerting significant pressure on the ARPP): Under the banners of Peugeot, Citroën and Renault, the French automotive industry has a long national symbolic history and is a major employer in France. Due to pressure from COVID-19, it is currently completely blocked.

Sales of French-built cars reportedly fell by 50% in May, prompting the French government to pledge € 8 billion to support the struggling industry. If I was editorializing, I would say that French cars have a long and legendary reputation for breaking off eccentrically – but I am not, so I will not.

The announcement

As mentioned earlier, the VanMoof ad is an elegant ad (you can see it at the top of this article). Through its 45 seconds, viewers are treated to slow and clever panoramas of an agnostic branded vehicle on a soundtrack of Jackie Lomax’s “New Day”, in homage / servile imitation of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”.

The announcement would have been welcomed by Dutch and German viewers – which is notable, as Germany has an auto industry worth 400 billion euros a year (but with a stronger international reputation).

However, when the VanMoof TV spot crossed the borders of French screens – you know, the same “France” that is famous for things on bikes – it was quickly crushed by the ARPP.

VanMoof’s announcement is, the brand notes, one of the first television commercials for a bicycle to be screened in France. It is also the first to be banned. Pioneering stuff!

The complaint

According to the ARPP, VanMoof’s announcement is “unbalanced and [discredits] the entire automotive industry. Pictures of factories / chimneys and an accident create a climate of fear, “the body said in a letter to VanMoof.

Which is a bit of bullshit at a glance, but becomes dramatically so when you learn a little more about ARPP.

As VanMoof points out, 10% of the fabulously lucrative advertising spending regulated by the ARPP comes from the automotive sector. The ARPP itself, on the other hand, is funded by the private sector, likely leading to some overlap of the two circles in this particular Venn diagram.

Finally, to connect you with a few points, there is the small fact that the ARPP has in the past been put forward for its lack of independence by NGOs, including Greenpeace.

ARPP President Stéphane Martin responded to VanMoof by highlighting these facts with a fiery missive to the French news channel, FranceInfo.

“This is a classic answer to questioning our independence and grabbing the attention of the media by shouting” censorship “,” said Martin, no doubt swirling a Peugeot keychain around his finger. “We cannot afford to put entire sectors in a bad light. This is an important prerequisite for fair competition. In some areas, this advertising goes too far, with unnecessary images, like smoke from factory chimneys, which have nothing to do with the auto industry. ”

In unrelated news: the French auto industry is a major contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions so as to include (but not be limited to) smoke from factory chimneys. The millions of vehicles produced by the sector are used in 81% of French domestic journeys and 85% of freight, for a total of one third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, attempts to control them becoming more and more more politicized and sometimes abandoned.

Who plays who?

I get it. Hundreds of thousands of people – eight percent of all people working in France – are employed by French automakers. These people vote and have a certain political weight. Any government has an interest in keeping industries afloat, especially in these difficult times. And a body that regulates advertising has to be funded in one way or another, even if it sometimes seems to be totally out of the pockets of the industries it is supposed to rule on.

For VanMoof, the brand has a thriving electric bike business based on a bike that is more or less the visual equivalent of a Citroën DS, and it did a pretty amazing job of getting the conclusion of the ARPP (and to his turn, his ad) in front of millions of potential buyers. And by covering up this spicy quarrel, I guess we’re playing in there.

But if the Dutch brand “catches the attention of the media by shouting” censorship “”, it does so only because it is actually censored by an organization subject to financial restraint from the automobile industry, in a country which injects billions of euros into car manufacturers manufacturing eccentric vehicles which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of a dying planet ( allegedly blah blah blah).

All in all, I think we are there:

The bikes are great. Electric bikes are the future and can play a transformative role in getting people out of cars and making them happier and healthier. Buy a VanMoof, or not, but for all that it’s worth, it seems increasingly clear that bikes are going to be on the right side of history here.


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