Friday Lunchtime Semiotics

Bikes Culture

We’re becoming a little obsessed with deconstructing the way cars are marketed and advertised. It’s clear to us that by studying the way cars are represented by the hipsters in slick haircuts is the best way to tease out stuff about ourselves and our relationships with our motors. Join us in a bit of Friday lunchtime semiotics.

This first viral ad from Greenpeace might appear to be a little obvious. But peel back a layer or two and it’s clear that the producers used a very clever way to manipulate a car consumer’s ideas about themselves. Take an ordinary office Joe, besuited and bound by the collar-and-tie and very aware of the opinions of others. Not only is he increasingly hated by his colleagues (we don’t know why until the final frame), but his very idea of himself is defined by the car he drives. When he finally makes it to the (empty) car park, the full horror of his existence is revealed, but in the sparse spaces and cool lighting that is such a feature of mainstream car adverts. Self loathing manipulated, office bullying vindicated – all in the visual language of automotive desire.

This little classic, on the other hand, takes issue with the smugness of the ecological road warrior. Anyone who has ever driven in London or Paris or New York City will attest to the little irritations provoked cyclists as they cruise past you in traffic and use your motor as little more than a convenient bit of street furniture to lean on before jumping the light. Every one who has ever cycled, too, has to admit to the feeling of power and self-satisfaction that comes with witnessing city motorists’ frustrations. “I’m saving the world, saving money, getting fit, and am going to be on time for my appointment sucker!” is the thought that etched triumphantly on your lycra-clad arse. A swift shift into reverse from the guy in the Fiat and the payoff is priceless.

This, to take another tack entirely, messes with the field of cars and national stereotype. Nestled inside the motoring mind of every German, the trope implies, is the beating heart of a sideways-obsessed scooby jocky, who could live anywhere between Swindon and Yokohama. You also, dear consumer, desire a car that even the studious Teutons will envy and feel shame when their creative souls prove less cutting edge than their technical acumen. The inclusion of Rock Me Amadeus, by the most famous Austrian (apart from a certain dictator with a tache) is a subtle piece of fun-poking at the perceived joylessness of Germanic efficiency. The latest Impreza (which we’d previously thought of as a little lumpen), appears almost balletic.