Management & Operations

‘Creeps’ campaign spurs protest in Vancouver, B.C.

Posted on April 1, 2003

A General Motors Canada advertising campaign in Vancouver, Canada, that bashes transit buses and their passengers was scrapped after complaints whistled in from all directions. The ads, which were published in late March in a Vancouver alternative weekly newspaper called Georgia Straight and some campus newspapers, portrayed transit buses as catering to “creeps and weirdos.” The point of the ads was to offer the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire as affordable alternatives to transit buses. After complaints by numerous transit proponents, however, officials at General Motors Canada pulled the ads and apologized for their “inappropriate nature.” Stew Low, GM’s director of public relations, said the ads were supposed to be humorous but admitted in a Toronto Star interview that they were “disrespectful to individuals who utilize and operate public transit.” Some of the ads showed transit buses with destination signs that said “creeps & weirdos” and “wet dog smell.” Other ads suggested that riding the bus exposed passengers to “hours of hell” and “bacterial stew.” The ads were produced by MacLaren McCann Canada Inc. for GM and the Chevrolet Oldsmobile Dealers of British Columbia. Officials at the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) registered strong objections to the ads. In a letter to Michael Grimaldi, president of General Motors Canada, Doug McCallum, chair of TransLink’s board, said the advertising campaign is “harmful to the efforts of TransLink and all other groups who promote environmentally responsible alternatives to single-occupant vehicle use.” Ken Hardie, TransLink’s communications manager, said he was “underwhelmed” by GM’s response. “They said, ‘If people were offended, we’re sorry.’ Well, people were offended.” Hardie said it was GM’s second attack on transit buses. In 1999, an ad campaign that used the phrase “The Bus Sucks” appeared in a promotion for the Cavalier, said Hardie, who added that the anti-bus campaigns target college students and are timed for graduation. Other transit advocates who lodged complaints against GM were the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Motor Carrier Passenger Council of Canada, the Canadian Urban Transit Association and Better Environmentally Sound Transportation.

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