VanMoof’s e-bike ad banned in France for creating a ‘climate of anxiety’

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VanMoof, the Dutch electric bicycle brand, is officially too hot for (French) television.

The company’s first TV advertisement was banned in France for its negative portrayal of car traffic and pollution. The commercial was rejected by France’s advertising regulatory authority, ARPP, because it “discredit[s] the automobile sector […] while creating a climate of anxiety.”

The ad, which premiered on June 6th and is intended for both TV and the web, features scenes of traffic jams, vehicle crashes, and tailpipe pollution reflected on the surface of a sports car that eventually begins to melt, giving way to VanMoof’s new S3 e-bike. “The alternative to gridlocked freeways and overflowing subways,” the text reads. “Time to ride the future.”

But that was too much for the ARPP. In a letter to VanMoof, the regulatory agency accused the Dutch brand of unfairly casting a negative light on the auto industry. ARPP said the commercial also violates advertising and marketing code prohibiting the exploitation of feelings of “fear or suffering.” VanMoof is directed to modify the ad before resubmitting it.

Naturally, VanMoof is seeking to turn the rejection into a PR victory — and also a way to trumpet its unconventional approach to advertising. The company published a blog post on Tuesday boasting about the ARPP’s determination.

“We were always aware that this commercial isn’t your usual bike ad,” Taco Carlier, co-founder VanMoof, said. “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.”

VanMoof also points out that this is not the first time the ARPP has been linked to controversy. The organization has been previously called out for a lack of neutrality by NGOs such as Greenpeace and Médecins du Monde. But ARPP defended its decision.

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,” Stéphane Martin, ARPP’s managing director, told Radio France. “You should not fall into the ease of bashing when you just have to promote your product.”

It’s an odd turn, especially for France where efforts to promote more sustainable modes of transportation have gone mainstream. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently won reelection almost exclusively on a platform of removing cars from cities to promote biking and walking.

The issue seems to stem mostly from the dire conditions of France’s auto industry. Sales are plummeting in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic and widespread economic decline. The government recently introduced an €8 billion plan to bail out the auto sector.

Meanwhile, bike sales have spiked in response to the coronavirus pandemic and global lockdown. E-bike companies, in particular, are reporting record sales. VanMoof is a direct-to-consumer company, meaning it bypasses traditional bike stores to sell its bikes online and through its own brand stores.

In May, the company said its first quarter sales were up dramatically compared to the same period last year, increasing in all of its main markets, including Germany (+226 percent), the UK (+184 percent), the Netherlands (+140 percent), the US (+138 percent), and France (+92 percent). The uptick was at least partially driven by discounts ahead of the launch of its S3 and X3 e-bikes in April.

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