Electric bike ad banned in France for 'discrediting the auto sector'

Van Moof's ad cut a little too close to the bone for French carmakers who complained to TV advertising regulators.

Dutch e-bike maker VanMoof has had its first TV commercial banned in France because according to complaints from automakers, it creates "a climate of anxiety." VanMoof says this is the first time the French advertising regulator has banned an advertisement for a bicycle. That's a unique honor, and one VanMoof is sure to try to capitalize on... perhaps in a follow-up campaign?

The ad — entitled, "Time to Ride the Future," shows gridlocked traffic and other perils of congestion and commuting via reflections in the bodywork of a car. The ad asks viewers to reconsider how they commute and the possibility of a more ecologically-friendly future that's also better for their mental health. Eventually, the car melts and reforms as a VanMoof electric bicycle.

Out of step — As VanMoof notes in its release, e-bikes are having something of a moment, so the wrath of French regulators — humorous in itself given the French propensity to position themselves as unshockable libertines — feels especially out of sync with what's, dare we say, en vogue. It's also a reminder of how much sway the French automotive sector still holds. It is, after all, the country that birthed Citroën, Renault, Peugeot, and Bugatti.

VanMoof's ad had been airing in Germany (another automotive powerhouse) and The Netherlands for two weeks before it ran afoul of the Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (ARPP), which VanMoof explains is a "self-regulatory organization supported by the private sector." In other words, it knows which side its bread is buttered, and doesn't want the butter taken away. The ARPP ruled that certain shots in the ad "discredit the automobile sector," in addition to fostering the aforementioned anxiety.

The VanMoof S3, capable of 20 MPH and inducing panic in French car company executives.VanMoof

The ARPP has previously run into trouble and been accused of bias by Greenpeace and Médecins du Monde. This is the first time it's taken on a bicycle company, though. And definitely the first time it's taken on a company focused on sustainability and reimagining urban transportation to be more human-centric.

The Streisand Effect — We suspect all the fuss is only going to make people more interested in VanMoof. We recently reviewed its latest S3 e-bike, a high-end, commuter-focused electric-bicycle that's packed with cutting-edge technology. With a price tag of $1,998, the S3 is no knee-jerk purchase, but that's still a third less than the previous generation VanMoof costs.

Moreover, as per its ad, VanMoof isn't selling a weekend leisure vehicle — though you can certainly use it that way — it's selling a transport alternative that's intended to get people off subways and busses and out of their cars. Which may be what actually has the French old guard en guard.