An advert for VanMoof’s latest e-bike, the S3, has been banned in France because regulators said that the 30-second clip, which showed a car melting, with gridlocked highways and packed subway platforms reflected on the bodywork, created a “climate of anxiety” – although the Dutch brand suspects that corporate interests, and the car lobby in particular, may be behind the decision.
VanMoof says that the advert, created as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe, “was always meant to raise questions and inspire new thoughts.”
However, France’s advertising watchdog, the Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (ARPP) has now ruled that it cannot be shown there, leading VanMoof to pose the question, “Is a thirty second spot of a melting car really too provocative for French TV?”
In a blog post on its website, VanMoof said: “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.”
The advert, VanMoof says, is “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.”
VanMoof said it found the decision “perplexing” and at odds with the ARPP’s pledge to promote sustainability, and pointed out that the reflected footage in the spot was 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.”
Highlighting other campaigns blocked by the ARPP, including one from Greenpeace showing melting ice caps, and outdoor ads from Médecins du Monde’s underlining the high cost of essential drugs, VanMoof accused the ARPP of favouring “corporate interests over supporting meaningful societal change.”
The company pointed out that it “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.”
VanMoof also highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic has seen increased demand for e-bikes and made reference to the €300 million that Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo is spending on the most ambitious cycling infrastructure plan of any major world city right now – and one endorsed by the French capital’s citizens, who returned her to the Hotel de Ville for a further six years at the weekend’s elections.
“So it’s easy to see why car manufacturers might be scared of this behavioural shift,” VanMoof continued. “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.”
Speaking about the ad earlier this month, VanMoof Creative Director Pascal Duval said: “I hope that it will prompt people to re-examine the status quo.
“COVID-19 has shown that nothing is fixed, and the systems and behaviours we think are permanent can disappear overnight. There’s obviously been a lot of focus on the negative aspects of this experience, and we don’t want to take away from that at all.
“But we can see many things changing for the better.
“Inner city traffic is at the lowest it’s ever been, and pollution is dropping all over the world.
“City planners are finally embracing biking, and dedicated biking infrastructure is being built faster than ever.
“That’s why this film goes beyond just selling the new Vanmoof S3 & X3.
“We want to inspire people to rethink the way they move, and show how that can affect the world they live in.
“It’s really a call to action, a chance to leave the past behind, and make real progress that benefits everyone,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.