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Reprogramming 60 Years of Car-Culture Marketing

3:45 PM PST on November 6, 2020

small child riding a bike in a badly paved bike lane next to a big truck

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Ride a bike as a child, and adults smile at you. But as soon as “…you’re over 15 or 16, you’re a Lycra road-warrior, an urban hipster, a crazy car-hater–you’re never just a regular person who takes their kids to school,” explained Tom Flood, an adman based in suburban Toronto who used to do advertising for car companies.

His perspective changed when he had kids–and started trying to ride bikes with them. The road setup in the lead image, where a magical line is supposed to keep a cyclist safe from a truck or car, is as typical in Toronto as it is in the Bay Area. “The first time I took my kids to daycare and school on a bike I realized this is an absolute disaster,” he told Streetsblog. “We must all agree this is not good enough.”

But people don’t agree, because for some 60 years, explained Flood, car advertising has programmed them that driving is freedom, driving is how you get around, that driving–even reckless driving–is a symbol of status and power. But after 15 years in the industry, he’s set out to use the same advertising and marketing tools honed by the car industry to highlight some of the insanity of our auto-uber-alles culture.

Readers probably first encountered Flood’s work via an article in Streetsblog USA and Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero Cities Journal. It should be required reading for anyone involved in the safe streets movement. He addresses the extent to which car advertising and our resultant culture has programmed people into thinking it’s okay to allow scenes such as the lead image or the tweet below, with cyclists forced to navigate between 20-ton vehicles:

Traffic violence, explained Flood, is rooted in car marketing that treats vehicle safety as something that only applies to the occupants of cars.

That same culture puts all the onus of avoiding a crash on the victims of traffic violence, rather than the perpetrators. As seen in his “the arm band” ad:

Another of Flood's magazine style ads
Another of Flood’s magazine style ads

Car culture has to change, he says, because it’s killing us. “It’s heart breaking,” said Flood. “We have to get our culture back to normal.”

To see more of Flood’s work, check out his web page.

Adman Tom Flood with his kids in Ontario, Canada. Photo: Flood
Adman Tom Flood with his kids in Ontario, Canada. Photo: Flood

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