November 03, 2022

Article at Forbes

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Why Are Slow Rental E-Scooters Speed-Regulated In Cities But Fast Motor Cars Are Not?

Man on Lime e-scooter, in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

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Rental e-scooter companies spend a lot of money convincing lawmakers that this new kid on the transport block is benign, trustworthy, and safe. Speed is out, yet there’s no such self-imposed restriction from automakers.

Voi’s recent “Let’s get it right” marketing campaign aimed to educate riders on the “most important rules to follow when it comes to safe e-scooter riding” and there are many other examples of e-scooter companies emphasising their good citizenship.

It’s hard to find car brand marketing that has stressed similar, claim campaigners. It’s usually quite the opposite, they say.

Car adverts are often aggressive, promoting not safety but speed and recklessness.

Take Dodge, for instance. Marketing materials for this “super-fast and supercharged” American car brand ooze what many consider toxic masculinity. Promotional photos on the brand’s website show drivers pulling 360-degree skids, or “donuts,” with speed implied by Photoshopped blurs.

“The Brotherhood of Muscle always has your back,” states Dodge, telling wannabe boy racers of the car’s “menacing” and “snarling” engines “built for speed.”

Drive a Dodge, and you can “break every boundary.”

Whether car advertising should be allowed to glorify such risky behavior is open for debate. Still, it’s undeniable that cars have been marketed this way since the year dot, with speed and implied aggression almost always a central part of the marketing mix. Even family estate cars are often advertised for their road-holding abilities rather than their storage space; performance over practicality.

Ad brakes

Legendary 1930s salesman Elmer Wheeler of New York City’s Tested Selling Institute famously advised clients, “Don’t Sell the Steak—Sell the Sizzle!” People buy dreams; they don’t buy mundane reality, a mantra that almost all advertisers swear by but none more so than automakers.

Car ads rarely, if ever, feature snarling traffic jams, fume-filled roads, or mangled pedestrians. Instead, unfeasibly shiny cars are often shown on sinuous roads with hardly another motor vehicle in sight, a deliberate but usually unobtainable “sizzle” that fuels congestion, environmental destruction, and death on the streets.

And when not in some remote Scottish glen, a car in a typical TV ad might be shown speeding through empty city streets shot with low-to-the-ground camera angles to fake the sort of all-road agility rarely possible in reality. The message is clear: buy into this vision, and you, too, will travel in a blur, dripping with sex appeal; you, too, will experience the freedom that only a fast car can deliver.

Speed, power, 0 to 60mph recklessness: all stock in trade to the director of a typical car advert. Tom Flood has the inside skinny on this. The twenty-year advertising veteran has worked on many Canadian campaigns for automotive clients but now goes viral for his people-centric ads that use the same emotionally-charged techniques that car promos use.

“Everything changed for me when I took my kids to school on their bikes for the first time and had my awakening to the serious imbalance on our streets,” said Flood, who recently returned to his home in Ontario, Canada, after a European speaking tour.

“Someone should let the e-scooter brands know they can do anything in their ads as long as they cover it off with an illegible legal disclaimer,” Flood told me, pointedly.

“Mainstream road safety campaigns sell the idea that everyone outside of the car must be safe so that essentially drivers can be dangerous,” he continued.

Car ads often “sell road violence,” he said.

Rental e-scooter companies do not market their products with the same sort of deadly glamour. Nobody bats an eyelid when a car company promotes dangerous driving, but e-scooter companies still have to market worthiness, not the sizzle.

E-scooters, we are often told, bristle with go-slower technologies.

Voi’s “Let’s get it right” marketing campaign might be billed as educational, but it’s existential—the real target of the campaign, some might argue, isn’t the would-be rider but the eagle-eyed legislator.

Car companies know, to coin a phrase, they can get away with murder, but e-scooter companies have to be mindful of the local and national lawmakers who, on a whim, could legislate the rental e-scooter out of existence.

While rental e-scooters use GPS technology—and sometimes on-board cameras—to decelerate in downtown areas, most motor cars are not similarly slowed down.

Motorists can press the gas pedal whenever and wherever they like. Freedom! So long as you are in a car.