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.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

State Farm Looks to Engage Cycling Community

|
Responding to criticism of an ad depicting a humiliated office worker forced to bike to his job due to high gas prices, State Farm Director of Marketing Communications Tim Van Hoof writes: I’m sorry this commercial offended anyone. State Farm has been asupporter of bicycle safety through the thousands of bicycle rodeoswe’ve held for children […]

Win Your Holiday Arguments: Jaywalking

|
(Stealing an idea from Salon, Streetsblog Los Angeles is here to help you win arguments with the beloved Car Culture Warriors in your life this holiday season. We’ll have at least two more parts in this series. – DN) Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported on a “jaywalking crackdown” underway in Downtown Los Angeles. Pedestrians […]

Ad Nauseam: Antisocial Thuggery From Pioneer

|
Last week Streetsblog NYC’s Brad Aaron posted what is sure to be a car-culture classic.  This three minute web-only commercial celebrates people that enjoy putting so much money into their cars’ sound systems that they can terrorize entire neighborhoods by blasting music at ear-splitting volumes.  A lot of times when I’m writing an "Ad-nauseam" post […]

Schwarzenegger Proposes Making the 405 a Double Decker Freeway

|
To the casual observer, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger seems like an environmental crusader.  He signs anti-sprawl legislation, he sues the federal government over emission standards for automobiles, he flies around the world to attend greenhouse gas conferences. But to those of us that live here and have been working to clean and green our transportation system; […]

Ad Nauseam: Pump

|
John McCain released a new television advertisement where he promises relief at the gas pump for working families by increasing oil drilling in America. The ad begins by showing an old fashioned gas pump as a voice darkly intones, “Gas prices, $5, $% no end in site.”  Then, as the image changes to rapidly rising […]

Investor’s Magazine: Hooray for Highways! Boo for Gas Taxes!

|
The Investor’s Business Daily has written an editorial extolling the virtues of wider freeways and lower gas taxes. It’s a great piece of car culture thinking from the last century. Taken with State Farm’s advertisement bashing bike commuters as poorly dressed losers, it really shows how far we still have to go. At issue is the […]