E-bike advert that focuses on vehicle pollution banned in France for creating 'climate of anxiety'

“We stand by our message,” company says

AN ADVERT for an e-bike made by VanMoof, a Dutch company, has been banned from French television after it was deemed to create “a climate of anxiety”.

The advert, obviously intending to show the benefits of cycling over driving, depicts scenes of air pollution, traffic jams and car wrecks in the reflection of a car, before the vehicle melts to the ground. The slogan “time to ride the future” appears on the screen, before transitioning to an image of VanMoof’s new S3 e-bike.

The Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (ARPP), France’s self-regulatory advertising watchdog, sent a letter to VanMoof, telling it that sections of the advert “discredit the automobile sector […] while creating a climate of anxiety”.

VanMoof hit back at the ARPP in a blog post. Taco Carlier, co-founder of VanMoof, said: “We were always aware that this commercial isn’t your usual bike ad. It’s really a call to action, a chance to leave the past behind, and make real progress that benefits everyone. Questioning the status quo will always be confrontational, but that was our purpose from the start.”

The blog post also pointed out that the self-regulatory body has been accused of bias in the past after banning adverts by Greenpeace and Médicins du Monde. The former launched a campaign criticising the actions of politicians in regards to climate change, while the latter was flagged by the ARPP after a campaign that criticised the pharmaceutical industry for the prices of medicine.

The ARPP doubled down on the decision, however. Stéphane Martin, the Managing Director of the ARPP, said on Radio France: “It is a great classic to attack the independence that we have, in fact, and to try to obtain space and free media coverage shouting at censorship. You should not fall into the ease of bashing when you just have to promote your product.”

In the letter sent to VanMoof, seen by Driving.co.uk, the ARPP directed VanMoof to modify the advert as it contravened advertising codes in regards to the exploitation of fear or suffering.

However, a spokesperson for VanMoof told Driving.co.uk that it would not change the video and that “we stand by our message that we’d like to get people to reconsider the ways we move around in cities in the hopes that together we can make our cities cleaner and greener”.

With broadcasters reluctant to go against the rulings of the ARPP, VanMoof is now turning to an “out of home campaign” that the company expects to appear on the streets of Paris in the next couple of weeks, including a video placement at La Defense, the city’s business district.

They also pointed out that the president of the Adame, the French Agency of Ecological Transformation and a partner of the ARPP, had expressed his support for the advert. He said, in a tweet (translated from French): “The @ademe is a partner of #ARPP. We will discuss this advertisement at our next meeting. This ad is beautiful and makes you want to ride a bike … where is the issue?”

Some are pointing out the odd timing of the ban, especially after Paris’ incumbent Mayor Anne Hidalgo won re-election earlier this week using a campaign that placed the use of bikes and walking at its fore. On Monday, President Macron pledged €15bn (£13.6bn) over the next two years for the ecological transition to a low-carbon economy.

The coronavirus crisis has also seen the popularity of bicycles increase dramatically, both in France and in other countries throughout Europe.

The French government is, however, heavily invested in its car industry — it owns a 15% stake in Renault, has supported the jobs of around 250,000 workers in the industry during the coronavirus crisis, and has unrolled a €8bn (£7.2bn) bailout after new car sales in the country fell by 89% in April.

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