Our latest campaign film was always meant to raise questions and inspire new thoughts. But the Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (ARPP) has ruled that the film cannot be broadcast in France because it creates “a climate of anxiety”. Is a thirty second spot of a melting car really too provocative for French TV?
Let’s take a step back for a second. For those out of the e-biking loop, our ‘Reflections’ film takes a melancholic look at transportation of the past, with gridlocked freeways and jam-packed subways reflected in a car’s bodywork. And as the soundtrack sings of a “new day dawning”, the glossy surfaces start to warp and distort, melting into a pool of liquid metal. No prizes for guessing what appears in the car’s place – the VanMoof S3 flashes into view before the film cuts to black.
It’s an eye-catching sequence of visuals, and a powerfully wordless statement about our future. By flipping the visual language of a car advert on its head, we point to a world where people are free to choose a different kind of mobility, one which benefits their environment as much as it does themselves. Unfortunately, the self-regulated ARPP argue that aspects of the film “discredit the automobile sector [...] while creating a climate of anxiety” and have banned the film from airing on French television.
Given that the regulatory board recently pledged to reinforce the sustainability aspects of their policies, it’s a difficult decision to justify. And it’s especially perplexing when you consider that the reflected images weren’t created for this commercial – it’s all archival documentary footage that’s freely available in the public domain. If everyday footage of real world transport is going to create a “climate of anxiety”, maybe someone should try to do something about that world. Y’know… by offering alternative means of transportation. Or something.
It’s not the first time the ARPP’s decisions have been viewed as controversial. Earlier this year, it blocked a call-to-action campaign by Greenpeace. Apparently images of melting ice caps were deemed “too political” for Parisian metro commuters. Likewise, Médecins du Monde’s series of billboards highlighting the astronomical costs of essential drugs was blocked due to the “risks of negative reactions from pharmaceutical companies”.
Noticing a pattern here? We’re hardly conspiracy theorists, but the ARRP have shown a tendency to favor corporate interests over supporting meaningful societal change. And their blocking of our commercial comes at a time when the French automobile industry is in real trouble. Car sales are plummeting, and the French government has been forced to introduce an €8 billion recovery plan to keep the sector afloat.
At the same time, persistent social distancing measures are fueling demand for e-bikes. With bikes seen as an increasingly dependable transport option compared to public transport, Paris city planners have launched new cycling initiatives, and dedicated €300 million of their budget to cycling infrastructure.
So it’s easy to see why car manufacturers might be scared of this behavioural shift. And the giants of the auto industry still have the weight and financial clout to lobby regulatory bodies like the ARPP. It might explain why to-date there have been almost no bike commercials broadcast worldwide. But with this market stranglehold starting to loosen, it’s only a matter of time before more voices can be heard. There’s a new day dawning indeed.