Transport for London's new cycling adverts may have been expensive at nearly half a million pounds, but it's the advertising execs' vision of cycling that's rubbed me up the wrong way.
If you've been to a London cinema lately, you've probably seen Transport for London's (TfL) hip new cycling advert, replete with Mark Ronson soundtrack. It opens with a shot of the BT tower seen from Regents Park (presumably an ironic nod to the fact cycling is almost totally banned in the park aside from a tiny trial on the broad walk) before hopping on a sightseeing tour of London. A succession of bikers pedal around Blackheath, Hyde Park, the Grand Union canal near Kingsland Road, the Emirates stadium and trendy backstreets around Borough.
The ad is one of a series by TfL to big up its cycling initiatives - "Boris bikes", superhighways - and encourage Londoners onto their bikes. Watching its film-worthy production values at the cinema, I wondered how many bike stands you could buy for the cost of making it. Quite a few, it turns out. The total cost was nearly half a million pounds, TfL revealed. £300,000 went on production and another £141,000 on cinema placement.
In fairness, that cost covers six films in total - in addition to the cinema ad above, there are five online-only ones including celeb appearances from Dermot O'Leary and Edith Bowman. The cost also needs some context. While bike stands cost a few hundred pounds each, a bike-friendly upgrade of a road junction can quickly hit tens or even hundreds of thousands. A cool £52m from the overall £111m TfL cycle programme for 2009-10 went on the bike hire scheme. And with the cycle budget hitting a record £116m for 2010/11, the advert works out at just 0.38% of TfL's cycling spend.
Mike Cavenett, communications officer at the London Cycling Campaign, likes the campaigns but offers a reminder that the money is still small change in the bigger picture:
It's great that cycling is being widely promoted by TfL, and don't forget these adverts have to compete with multi-million pound offerings from the car industry. On the other hand, there needs to be much more money spent on solid cycling infrastructure, of a quality that will get new people on bikes. The annual cycling budget is still paltry compared with that spend on other transport modes.
And when compared to the £500m spent annually promoting cars, £441,000 does seem comparatively modest. Funnily enough, the cycling advert adopts exactly the same approach as car ads - leave reality behind and make the mode of transport look dreamy. So there's no congestion in TfL's ads. No buses and taxis forcing you off the road. No abuse shouted from car windows. No iPod zombie pedestrians (or cyclists). No under-resourced bike racks that are full. Aside from a brief two-second clip showing cars alongside a cycle superhighway, there are just three moving cars in the whole 92 seconds.
Instead, there are lots of green spaces, moments of sunlit beauty in quirky corners of London and window-shopping at indie shops. It's the equivalent of the executive car speeding along open Scottish roads, or convertibles packed with laughing twentysomethings cruising around urban landscapes, Zoolander-style.
I think it's this vision of cycling being sold to non-cyclists that I find more objectionable than the cost of the adverts, which is arguably a justified way of driving up cyclist numbers.
What do you think of the adverts? And are cycling ads a good use of half a million pounds of public money - or would more people have been encouraged onto the roads by better biking infrastructure, such as lanes, stands and road layout improvements?