April 9, 2018

Selling Motordom: Safe and Sexy & Get Out of the Way

If you picked up Friday’s Vancouver Sun, you were treated to a front page advertisement from Hyundai in bold letters proclaiming that the 2018 Sonata was “Safe and Sexy”.
So what exactly does that mean? In the very tiny print, this vehicle is a “top safety pick” IF equipped with autonomous emergency braking AND LED headlights. It has been suggested that up to 80 per cent of low beam headlights might not provide adequate stopping distances at speeds above 40 miles per hour according to the American Automobile Association.  Pedestrian deaths were up nearly 10 per cent in the United States in 2015, but that was largely due to distracted drivers, not dim headlights. As many pedestrians in low light situations will attest, the light bounce of the new LED headlights make visibility extremely difficult when using crosswalks on streets.
The  pedestrian beware message is echoed by Mercedes in this 2017  commercial spot below that shows a group of muscle cars ponying up at a pedestrian crosswalk and forcing an unfortunate pedestrian to run fast or risk getting mowed down. It is all part of a campaign to sell vehicles as dominant users of the street and also reminds active transportation users that vehicles still have the last word in any interaction. And it is also a reminder that as autonomous vehicles roll out that it is not just the safety of the vehicle’s occupant that must be paramount, but the safety of the most vulnerable street user that must count too.


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  1. In the early 1970’s, National Geographic ran an ad for the newly-built and not-yet-fully-occupied World Trade Center in New York which extolled one of the Center’s greatest accomplishments: “Uses more electricity than the City of Schenectady.” As in this car ad, the ring of tone deafness was not heard for many years. For now I will heed the warning in this new ad when I am crossing the street: “Get the F*&@ out of the way.”

  2. I would like to see Australia type rules for car ads here, basically requiring the ads to show realistic and safe driving:
    Related to this is a good article about victim blaming in car accidents:
    Of particular note is this:
    ‘REPORTERS ALSO TEND to write about the car, and not the person behind it. They may even give a vehicle a personality when, in reality, it’s just a machine.’

  3. Though not as extensive as the Aussie one, Canada does have advertising standards:
    Of note is:
    1. Accuracy and Clarity
    (c) All pertinent details of an advertisement must be clearly and understandably stated.
    10. Safety
    Advertisements must not, without reason justifiable on educational or social grounds, display a disregard for safety by depicting situations that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices or acts.
    A few years ago I saw a Toyota ad on TV which had a vehicle racing dangerously on empty city streets. I wrote the advertising council that this violated section 10 and they responded that there was text displayed stating that this closed streets were used for the ad. Problem was that the text was so tiny as to be almost invisible, thereby violating 1(c). Shortly after this, Toyota pulled the ad but am am not sure whether this was due to my intervention.

  4. Today when I see posts on this topic and especially car ads that promote mass consumption and speed as positive things to be aspired to, I am reminded of Rachel Notley’s threat to cut off the Alberta oil supply that provides ~90% of our liquid petroleum fuel.
    Maybe she should when you see the reinforcement of waste and destruction the car has perpetrated on society. Three-block lineups to gas stations may drive the absurdity of these ads and still-current urban planning models home more than anything else.

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