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Agency has chairman who heads ad trade body, clients including cycling sponsors, and investors with links to Olympic legacy and sustainability

A website that described cyclists killed and injured on the roads as 'stupid twats' has replaced its original text with an apology this evening (see above) following a wave of criticism. As road.cc can reveal, the firm behind the campaign is headed by a woman who also leads the advertising industry’s trade body, has clients involved in sponsorship of cycling and is backed by a private equity company one of whose senior staff is closely involved with sustainability issues, including cycling, as part of the Olympic Park legacy.

By 10pm this evening, the website at ride-smart.org had been taken offline, with creative agency Karmarama suffering a backlash from cyclists once news of it spread via Twitter. The site was also criticised for having lifted video footage from YouTube without crediting or linking back to the sources.

Instead of the text that had been there earlier deploring “Cyclists riding like stupid twats” being responsible for their own death or injuries, an apology appeared saying that the intention was to create a debate about safer cycling. That in itself is a laudable aim, but the company certainly didn't endear itself to cyclists with its approach - as you judge for yourself, since thanks to the magic of caching, you can still view the original site here.

The apology reads:

We're very sorry for the offence caused by our efforts to create debate around the critical issue of cycling safety.

We're hugely pro-cycling and have dozens of people who ride into the agency every day. We wanted to do something that would highlight the plight of cyclists on the road, as well as open up a debate about some of the less smart practices a minority of cyclists follow, like jumping red lights.

Again, we're sorry for the offence caused, it won't happen again.

It’s unclear whether the site as well as signage installed in London with limericks relating how fictional cyclists had contributed to their own death by for example jumping red lights was set up on behalf of a client, or may even have been, according to one theory, an exercise in seeing how quickly a campaign could go viral by pressing the right buttons. If that's the case, they proved their point.

But it's likely they've also learned something too; social media means it's impossible nowadays to make sweeping generalisations about a group and ignoring the fallout from that, something that cab firm Addison Lee and magazine Auto Express have discovered to their cost this year.

Sites such as Twitter enable cyclists - a broad group but one that typically reflects an affluent demographic of the type coveted by advertisers - to mobilise quickly to voice their concerns, and inevitably as news spread of the ride-smart website, a similar site went up under the name advertise-smart, outlining reasons for advertisers not to put their business the way of the agency involved, Karmarama.

That agency certainly isn’t a minnow trying to make a name for itself by creating a guerrilla-style campaign that was always certain to attract attention; a leading independent London agency with blue-chip clients, it is owned by Karma Communications which recently moved its 250 staff into new headquarters on Farringdon Road.

Karmarama’s executive chairman and partner, Nicola Mendelsohn, is currently coming to the end of a two-year term as president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, which among other things requires its corporate members to uphold “legal and ethical standards, including the IPA Bye-laws, British Codes of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion, and rulings of the Advertising Standards Authority and OFCOM.”

The Advertising Standards Authority, whose remit nowadays extends beyond print and broadcast advertising to websites, requires all advertisements to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

Holding company Karma Communications was set up in May 2011 by Phoenix Equity Partners with the purpose of making strategic acquisitions in the industry.

The first of those was Karmarama itself, whose clients include coffee house chain Costa, whose sub-brand Costa Express sponsored Rapha-Condor-Sharp during this year’s Tour of Britain, and the BBC, which hosted coverage of Team GB’s dominant performance in cycling at the London Olympics this summer.

A subsequent acquisition, Crayon, was merged into Karmarama earlier this year, and among the clients it brought was Honda, which is sponsor of the women’s cycling team backed by Bradley Wiggins announced last week.

One of Phoenix Equity Partners’ senior advisors, David Gregson, is a trustee of the environmental charity WWF and also sits on the board of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which is responsible for the Olympic Park now that London 2012 is over.

In a blog post for the WWF about the Olympic Park and sustainability, he imagines what the park will be like in 2030 with its 22 miles of footpaths and cycleways, and expresses the hope that “during my tenure guiding post-Olympic legacy decisions I have been something of an environmental champion.”

Perhaps he could pass some of his experience about promoting environmental initiatives without antagonising people who pursue sustainable travel on to the company his firm invests in?

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

67 comments

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 4 years ago
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If this was a viral "stunt" it worked, but that's just going to be used as an excuse now though.  14

Apology on their site now

Quote:

We're very sorry for the offence caused by our efforts to create debate around the critical issue of cycling safety.

We're hugely pro-cycling and have dozens of people who ride into the agency every day. We wanted to do something that would highlight the plight of cyclists on the road, as well as open up a debate about some of the less smart practices a minority of cyclists follow, like jumping red lights.

Again, we're sorry for the offence caused, it won't happen again.

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WolfieSmith [1327 posts] 4 years ago
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Worrying that a bunch of ad execs all looked at this nasty piece of muddled bigotry and thought 'Why not?' It's the Clarkson Gene (may he end up unwanted in a charity shop like his crappy books)

Like the recent News Night scandal you wonder whether the new instant media has created an industry where pressing the 'send' button seems to make more sense than checking the facts.

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WolfieSmith [1327 posts] 4 years ago
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More weasel words from Khackcarama. Red light jumping is not the same as red light running. If you are at the front of a line of revving cars and can see nothing coming right or left - and the cross lights are turning to amber then it makes sense to pull off. Better that then get cut up into the parked cars across the junction by the fumers behind you.

I would end the discussion on red light jumping by installing cycle green lights that activate 5 seconds before the cars green light to give cyclists time to get away first. Problem solved!

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Mostyn [396 posts] 4 years ago
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Seems this ad company should heed it's own words >

"Being Stupid is Very Stupid"

Very dangerous AD company. Stupid is as stupid does! Silly Twats.

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 4 years ago
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It didn't take long did it......http://advertise-smart.org/  19 19 19 19

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Luv2Cycle [6 posts] 4 years ago
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The language they used for the voice over of the videos they stole was also disgusting.

Do they really think that decent people want to hear filth like that. What sort of company uses language like that.

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dave atkinson [6261 posts] 4 years ago
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Some of their best friends are cyclists, eh  22

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Ravydavygravy [3 posts] 4 years ago
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What is everyday cycling in Arnhem
This ad agency says it will harm 'em
Was it just for a punt 
Or publicity stunt 
I'm so cross I could feather and tar them!

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Ravydavygravy [3 posts] 4 years ago
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Karmarama are awfully devious 
To profit from tragedies grievous 
They should know its not funny
Turning death into money
Take your site off the web and just leave us.

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Ravydavygravy [3 posts] 4 years ago
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Karmarama have caused me to twitter
Posting signs that are twisted and bitter
But now their site's gone
Their message was wrong 
Could they make themselves look any shitter?

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ChairRDRF [316 posts] 4 years ago
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I think there are regulations about sticking about posters, placards etc. in publci spaces - have they obtained permission fromt he local authorities concerned? It might be worthwhile informing Councils of these , er, materials.

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Tony Farrelly [2871 posts] 4 years ago
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Yes, I was wondering about that too, I'm sure you need permission from the local highways authority… mind you, maybe they just Photoshopped them in to the pics

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Velo_Alex [73 posts] 4 years ago
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The signs were actually part of the campaign and have been appearing around London (12 sites, apparently) for about a week now.

There are strict controls over Fly posting and Boarding. London implements fines of up to £2500 per incident with harsher punishments for repeat offenders.

As I said on Twitter earlier: If anyone sees one of these signs in London PLEASE report it to the relevant Borough Council.

The only way this company will learn that their actions really weren't acceptable is if it hits them in pocket.

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koko56 [330 posts] 4 years ago
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tl;dr this whole thing - but what's are the verses about?

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A V Lowe [592 posts] 4 years ago
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That was fast - from put-up to take down in hours. The parody website is clever but is perhaps as bad as the original cycle-safe one, and just as it is ill-advised to keep poking an animal you have cornered with a stick ('cos it will go for you if you keep pushing it too far) there should be a way to show we don't sink to such a level.

There will be ways to engage with these guys, and I think that easing off and offering a way to make amends is the way to go forward and show that the cycling community is above the level of playground name calling.

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andyp [1473 posts] 4 years ago
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'Red light jumping is not the same as red light running. '

It's exactly the same, no matter how you try to justify it.

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petescales [28 posts] 4 years ago
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Harvey and Rabbit wouldn't go around insulting cyclists!

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dave atkinson [6261 posts] 4 years ago
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ride smart caused a deal of offence
and the backlash was swift and intense
now there's guff in its place
where they try to save face
with a lame 'my best friends are...' defence

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Jerm [39 posts] 4 years ago
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I work in a magistrates' court where one of the most common defences put forward by people charged with racially aggravated offences is 'some of my best friends are black, Asian etc..'. Not very convincing is it?

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Mostyn [396 posts] 4 years ago
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TOO LATE!

This is an after thought; and their intentions would be best served if they closed down completely.

Who would wan't a company advertising for them, that carries a record of Racial Incitement towards other road users.

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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It was interesting to John Somers trying to defend the campaign on Facebook last night. He repeated the offensive nonsense and then moved into collective guilt mode. Somehow I'm to blame for someone else doing something like wearing headphones and not hearing a maniac in a lorry.

Hopefully there will be a few calls from clients to account managers this morning.

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captain_slog [352 posts] 4 years ago
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Avoid the victim-blaming and a guerrilla cycle-safety campaign could be a really good idea.

There was a young driver named Chuck
Who took care, in the cab of his truck
To look left and then right
Twice at every red light
Since safety's not just about luck.

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Simon E [2852 posts] 4 years ago
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Oh dear, what a sad bunch of attention-seeking tossers.

They would be better off following Bill Hicks' excellent advice to people in advertising/marketing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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The apology would work a lot better if these tossers included an admission that at least 70% of cycle accidents are caused by people other than the cyclist.

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zzgavin [193 posts] 4 years ago
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There seems to be a lot of over-reaction from the readers on road.cc Kharmarama made a stupid decision with some dubious views, they saw the feedback and realised their mistake, apologised and took it all down.
Now people are calling for clients to withdraw business and the whole 250 people agency to close down. Hardly calm rational reactions. Points like the one from JohnS and 70% of accidents are not the cyclists fault are useful.
Cyclists need to be level-headed in reaction to unfair criticism, not a baying mob. We'll be heard more clearly if we don't shout as much.

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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zzgavin wrote:

There seems to be a lot of over-reaction from the readers on road.cc Kharmarama made a stupid decision with some dubious views, they saw the feedback and realised their mistake, apologised and took it all down.
Now people are calling for clients to withdraw business and the whole 250 people agency to close down. Hardly calm rational reactions. Points like the one from JohnS and 70% of accidents are not the cyclists fault are useful.
Cyclists need to be level-headed in reaction to unfair criticism, not a baying mob. We'll be heard more clearly if we don't shout as much.

They realised their mistake after the reaction (not overreaction) from some cyclists. It's hardly a baying mob, simply people using the most effective means of getting their message across. No one called for lynchings. If I don't agree with the way a company operates I will avoid using the services. Entirely rational.

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theclaw [73 posts] 4 years ago
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zzgavin wrote:

There seems to be a lot of over-reaction from the readers on road.cc Kharmarama made a stupid decision with some dubious views, they saw the feedback and realised their mistake, apologised and took it all down.
Now people are calling for clients to withdraw business and the whole 250 people agency to close down. Hardly calm rational reactions.

If I made a cock-up as large as that in my job, I would be out - instantly. I would not even be allowed back to my desk to collect my stuff - HR would bring it out to the front desk. This wasn't a split-second bad judgement, they went round London fixing custom-made signs to lamposts. Nobody on road.cc has over-reacted in my opinion - people should be fired and clients should remove their business. Market forces force out the weak and make way for better organisations. It's the economy, stupid - and cyclists are an increasingly influential part of it.

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Mr Agreeable [174 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice to hear that they were only "opening a debate" about safe cycling. How original and innovative. I for one have never been cornered by some bore at a family gathering who finds out I cycle and wants to tell me that we're all lycra louts who jump red lights. I'm sure none of the rest of you have either.

Coming up next: the Daily Mail "open up a debate" about immigration, Fox News "open up a debate" about the role of the BBC, and the Daily Express "open up a debate" about Lady Di.

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zzgavin [193 posts] 4 years ago
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Saying that the entirety of a 250 person company should go out of business seems like an over-reaction to me. I don't agree with their campaign, nor their methods, but if we foam and froth at people saying negative things about some cyclists, then this will be heard over the other more important issues like making roads safer for riding on.
Look the the shambles at the BBC, no-one is talking about the child abuse in Wales anymore, just about which exec at the Beeb is going next.

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petescales [28 posts] 4 years ago
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I was going to try and do a limerick but can only come up with the first line....

"Like a ship cannot stop without anchors"

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