Ad Nauseam: State Farm and the Humiliation of Biking to Work

Drop what you’re doing, click the "play" button and enjoy 30 seconds of outstanding car culture courtesy of State Farm.

The Scene: An African American actor with a shaved head, conservative gray suit and slightly stiff demeanor asks, "Where can you find me? At the intersection of gas prices can not get any higher and guess what? Gas prices just got higher."

Jangly rock music is playing in the background. The camera pulls back and we see he’s standing in the parking lot of an anonymous corporate office building in Any Suburb, USA. Instead of suit pants, he’s wearing bright red spandex shorts, dark dress socks pulled up mid-calf and white sneakers. He looks ridiculous. And he’s standing next to a bicycle. Adding a surreal touch to the whole thing, he is also standing on a bright red circular carpet.

"You know that place where you’re swapping four wheels for two?" He looks down at his own outfit with an apparent sense of resigned humiliation. "Oh, man, I’m there."

Editor’s note: Yeah, I know that place. It’s called a city. I actually really like that place, especially in Los Angeles where the weather is always beautiful and there’s a ton of programs and non-profits designed to help people get back on their bikes.

Text rolls across the screen letting us know that State Farm can save us $369 a year. A voiceover says, "State Farm can get you back behind the wheel by saving you hundreds on car insurance. And you can pay your way with a plan that fits your budget. Call, click or visit and start saving your way. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."

Then the kicker: As the poorly dressed bike commuter fiddles with his equipment a female coworker walks by and says, "Nice pants, Jim." His voice dripping with irony, Jim replies, "Thank you, Sheila."

Analysis: Biking to work — the humiliation! But not really. This advertisement is actually highly subversive. The actor is so stiff and unconvincing, the commercial almost feels like a hostage video. The poor guy is reading his lines straight into the camera but he doesn’t really seem to believe what he’s saying. And that bizarre red carpet he’s standing on — it fully eliminates any sense of verité. It confirms that this is scripted, staged and not necessarily to be believed.

Meanwhile, on the subliminal level you’re looking at Jim’s legs and body, just like Shelia the coworker was doing as she walked by, checking him out. Yeah, he’s dressed like a freak but he is also extremely fit, athletic and healthy. Sheila’s teasing him but that’s because she thinks Jim is hot. The idea flickers across your medial prefrontal cortext, that part of the brain the neuromarketers are always trying to get to — Hey, maybe I could get fit and healthy by biking to work like Jim. Biking to work? I never thought of that. For $369 a year and whatever gas money I’d save by not driving I could buy a really nice bike. I could use it to get to work. Until this State Farm ad interrupted the sports event I was watching on TV, that thought never occurred to me.

"Start saving your way." And thus idea is implanted: I’m going to save by biking to work every once in a while. Thanks, State Farm.

Story Originally Filed by Aaron Naparstek with Slight Edits by Me.

  • statefarm = a-holes.

    i’m going to write them and demand an apology.

  • If I were a State Farm customer, I’d call them up and switch. *sigh*

  • This makes bike riding look totally emasculating. The message to males is, “Bike riding will expose your weakness and frailty.”

    So, you know, State Farm is there to help you become a real man again, safely hiding your legs and genitals from danger.

    State Farm, you suck.

  • The Militant wouldn’t necessarily blame State Farm, but the evil corporate marketing executives on Madison Avenue, New York City who control the mass media. The ideas behind this commercial and other damaging depictions were concocted by them, and not the companies themselves.

  • Charlie D.
  • I already sent them an email, this was their response:

    Thank you for your feedback regarding State Farm’s recent commercial featuring a man riding a bicycle to work. I understand your point of view and apologize for creating an ad you find offensive. It certainly was not my intention.

    Total BS. As if the writer of the email was also the person who created it.

  • Total BS. As if the writer of the email was also the person who created it.

    LOL. I bet it’s State Farm policy to respond to all emails “personally”, because, like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

    Still, I’m surprised you even got a response.

  • Damien Newton

    Maybe State Farm is like the borg. An apology from one drone speaks for the whole collective.

    Yeah, I just outed myself as a bit of a geek there, sorry about that.

  • re: borg.

    no way, i love star trek analogies. i’ve personally used a borg analogy more than once.

  • oh hell nah, shiela will think i’m a total fagatron and she ain’t even all that hawt. wut will brenda and monica think of my shorts and mah mah mah mah biicyycllle!?

    oh, nevermind, i thankfully have state farm, they’d never let me become such a no-testical, baby penis, bike rider. phew!

    p.s. damien, i just watched “generations” the other night. fkn klingons.

  • kate

    I got upset at it because biking is cool. AND insulting a fit black man in cycling shorts makes that man go away and that’s just tragic because I can’t look at him anymore.

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