State Farm Looks to Engage Cycling Community

Responding to criticism of an ad depicting a humiliated office worker forced to bike to his job due to high gas prices, State Farm Director of Marketing Communications Tim Van Hoof writes:

I’m sorry this commercial offended anyone. State Farm has been a
supporter of bicycle safety through the thousands of bicycle rodeos
we’ve held for children throughout the US and Canada, and we are open
to discussion about how State Farm may be able to work with the
bicycling community in the future.

This advertisement is part of an overall campaign where we attempt
to capture consumers talking about points in their lives. Our intention
is to recognize and empathize with these everyday challenges, and
provide ways State Farm can help.

State Farm is also very concerned about doing what we can to improve
health, safety and the environment in our communities. If you’d like
more information on what we’re doing, go to

To View the overall ad campaign please go to:

Thanks for writing, Tim. Streetsbloggers, what can State Farm and other insurers do to improve conditions for cyclists and others who routinely get around without a car? Pay-by-the-mile auto insurance? Cessation of the use of the word "accident" in referring to every car crash? An auto fatality trust fund to pay for safe streets initiatives?

Other suggestions?

  • Boogiedown

    Sell collision/theft insurance for bikers. Right now, due to the nature of their business, State Farm and other insurers are in the business of maintaining the status quo of autodependance. Selling insurance to bicylists would provide a service to the bikers and would also reallign State Farm’s priorities.

  • Stop claiming that non-automotive forms of transportation are inferior forms of transportation.

    During my years of bicycle commuting, co-workers told me that they wished they lived close enough work that they could cycle like me. How about adding that sort of comment to this ad from State Farm?

  • Mike

    It’s kinda off-topic, but they should lead an effort to change the NY state law that provides a discount for cars with audible car alarms, which have no effect on car theft.

  • annie

    Seriously, enough with the word “accident”! I’d like to see what the reaction would be if news anchors started replacing “collision” with “accident” … might this have an impact on the collective psyche of tv watchers? drivers? who knows. at least it would be more honest!

    I was so disgusted about that state farm ad that I wrote an email too and before Tim wrote back (btw thanks, Tim), received a very nice email from someone in their advertising dept. thanking me for my honest feedback.

  • annie

    i meant to say “started replacing ‘accident’ with ‘collision'”
    duh – sorry.

  • Rich Wilson

    Pay by the mile insurance (or pay by the day) would be great for ‘light’ car users. It would also encourage people to try cycling for short trips. The insurance cost doesn’t get factored into your choice to walk/bike/drive a few blocks to the store. You’ve already paid it. If you would not otherwise drive that day, then the extra $2-5 cost of insuring your car for the day would be noticeable and you’d be encouraged to leave the car at home. (granted you’d have to pay something just to have your car sitting in your driveway- theft/vandalism insurance)

    How about a discount for some promises: “I will not use a cell phone while driving”. “I will yield the right of way to oncoming cyclists when I’m turning left”. If the promise is made, and the discount is taken, and the promise is broken resulting in a collision, coverage is severely reduced. That would be a good one in terms of ‘zero loss’ to the insurance company. Lower income due to discounts, but lower outflow covering collisions resulting from promise breaking behavior.

    Not an incentive, but respect for all your customers: whenever I’ve had a car, I’ve always bristled at the choice of ‘work/school’ vs. ‘pleasure’. It’s like if I’m not driving to work every day, I must be using my car for Sunday drives in the country.

  • In terms of health, its important that people lead active lives so that don’t suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. Riding your bike to work is a great way to kill too birds in one stone: exercise and the commute. Maybe health insurance should be cheaper for people who commute to work by bike or foot?

    It’s certainly more expensive if you smoke…

  • Car insurance already is pay-by-the-mile. If you drive more, you pay more. At least, that’s certainly the way my car insurance always worked when I had a car. Every year, when I renewed my coverage, I had to report the odometer reading.

  • a good neighbor

    Some food for thought…

    I picked up a day-old copy of Newsday on the LIRR by accident this AM…

    In Thursday’s Newsday, these 2 articles were side by side:

    1) Driver hurt as car slams into East Patchogue KFC,0,784274.story

    2) Home, auto insurance too high, consumer groups say,0,1024204.story

    Then a few pages later:
    A deadly spot gets a redesign,0,1331577.story

    And finally:,0,1331577.story
    Have you seen this bike?
    “Police investigating the bombing of a military recruiting station in Times Square last month are asking the public’s help in trying to find the perpetrator by releasing a photograph of the recovered bike they think was involved in the incident. Detectives have said they believe the same suspect who had previously attacked the British and Mexican consulates is also responsible for the blast at the Crossroads of the World on March 6. In the first two attacks, the suspect used a mountain bike. A $15,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.”

  • Rich Wilson

    Um, while I’m at it- Is Tim Van Hoof reading these? Will they be sent back to him? Are they REALLY interested in our feedback, or are we just pissing into the wind?

  • Rich Wilson

    “Car insurance already is pay-by-the-mile”

    Only very roughly. You tell them what you think you’ll use for the year (miles), and where you live, and if you have an alarm, and if you’ll keep it garaged, and if you’ll drive it to work or school, and how far work or school are, and they give you a rate. “I’m only going to drive four days per month” isn’t part of the equation, because most people drive every day. Reporting your odometer is just to make sure you’re staying within what you said you would.

    Factoring frequency of use would require an authentication system (log on to a web site for days you won’t drive e.g.) so there’s a cost involved in implementing it. Which is why I don’t see it happening any time soon. Cost to State Farm, and they don’t get anything for it, other than maybe a very few happy converts from other insurance companies who don’t offer the service.

  • Lars

    If they commented I am sure they are reading them.

    I agree with the above poster who said that bicycling shouldn’t be looked at as inferior. Granted the majority of State Farm’s clients probably don’t live in big cities, but still there are an awful lot who do. Who do have State Farm insurance or have car insurance (my friend Mike does) but he only drives his car on weekends, trips and for picking up loads of groceries. The rest of his time he rides a bike to work and for errands and so does his wife. Those people are insulted by this type of commercial. They should think twice about their customers.

  • owen howlett

    Insurance companies are heavily regulated by state law, and there are various arcane mathematical formulas that regular how much the premiums they charge can be dependent on the number of miles a person travels. If State Farm wanted to lobby the feds or state govts to change this math and allow driver mileage to be a bigger part of the equation, I’m sure that cycling and enviro groups would support them.

  • sabrina

    Bicycle insurance is already common in many parts of Europe, that would be something State Farm could look into.

  • Diane

    I think the reason that guy in the ad had such nice legs and such a slim physique is because he’s riding his bike to work. That ought to save him on health insurance — or at least on health care — don’t you think?

  • Fendergal

    Tim Van Hoof uses the phrase “bicycle safety,” which shows that he (and by extension State Farm) doesn’t get it. It’s not about safety; it’s about respect. Car-centric organizations think of safety in terms of “you, cyclist, stay out of the way of the car, which is the more rightful user of the road than you.”

    I’d like to see a series of ads that promote commuting by bike, cycling as activity for everyone (not just kids!), cyclists as viable road users, and a suggestion that State Farm customers (and everyone) try to leave the car at home once a week and walk, take transit or bike.

  • Charlie D.

    Along the lines of other peoples’ suggestions, how about an ad design to appeal TO bike commuters, who in many cases own (and insure) cars? Tell people who only use their cars occasionally why they should go with State Farm instead of the competition. It should actually be a very desirable demographic because driving less often generally means less risk of being involved in a crash.

  • ma

    Tim – Please pull that idiotic ad if you indeed wish to avoid insulting people who choose to bicycle commute for health and the environment. If you are truly concerned about promoting cycling safety, how about pushing for driver cell phone restrictions, prosecution of negligent drivers who injure pedestrian and bicyclists, and initiating a national “share the road” campaign?

  • Garrick Sitongia

    Bicyclists are very aware of vulnerability on the roadway. I’m sure many of us would like to purchase insurance for accident injury as well as for bicycle coverage in an accident. Then we might see State Farm commercials on TV reminding bikers to wear a helmet and use a rear view mirror. Then you might have parents who take out policies for their children who ride to school.

  • Mark

    Actually apologize and pull the ad.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Rich is on top of it but I go further. Modern automobiles are equipped with fairly sophisticated event recorders. Pay by the mile should be controlled by the event recorders. The cars today are capable of self reporting a pretty complete array of performance functions at the dealerships. This technology should be systematized to interface with GPS data to report driver behavior. The insurance company should then market rates if drivers agree to keep their operation behavior withing certain limits. Example: if you keep maximum speed with in 100% of the posted limits a minimum insurance rate could apply.

    I would love to have my driver behavior distinguished from all the wild young boys going 80 on the Belt Parkway and 60 Eastern Parkway.

  • Whitny

    I am disappointed in State Farm’s commercial insinuating that bicycling is a humiliating form of transportation. I recently acquired State Farm insurance and almost cancelled my policy due to insensitive remarks by the agent regaring cycling as transportation. She told me stories about a friend of hers who used his bike to commute and said, “When will he learn?” stating he needs to “stop trying to be a hero” and indicating that bicycling is not a viable option and is only for people who are reckless and do not value their safety. It is precisely because I value the well-being of myself and others that I chose to bike to get around, instead of polluting our environment with more emissions. Perhaps State Farm should consider educating their auto policy owners about responsible driving and being aware of cyclists on the street. If they included that, I would definitely promote their insurance.

  • Cory

    Just about every insurance company has newsletters and ad campaigns that suggest lifestyle changes that ostensibly improve customer quality of life while quietly reducing claims and increasing profitability. Anti-corporate sentiments aside, this can be seen as a win-win mechanism for effecting some cultural change.

    Allstate has their ads about reducing cellphone use and other driver distraction, health insurers have newsletters about healthy diet and exercise. It’s about profit but the end effect is not entirely sinister.

    Isn’t it feasible for any auto insurance provider to simply encourage biking? Cars that are sitting in garages cost the same to insure and don’t get in wrecks. Who benefits? The shareholder and the earth.

    Don’t mistake me for a capitalist or a conservative. I’m just saying this is something that makes sense, the world being what it is.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    In the end automobile insurance companies have an economic stake in the danger, pain and expense associated with auto centric transportation. The worse it is for us the better for them.

  • dbs

    Agreed. Kill the ad.

    Here is some good background on the campaign, which originated at DDB…in Chicago, of all places…

    (Cut and paste in entirety here since Advertising Age is subscription only.)

    State Farm Strikes Back at Rivals
    DDB’s Effort for Insurer to Combat Plague of Geckos, Cavemen, Ducks

    By Jeremy Mullman
    Published: March 14, 2008
    CHICAGO ( — The last campaign from DDB, Chicago, creative chief Paul Tilley is for State Farm, and it attempts to hold off big-spending, hard-charging competitors by co-opting many of the arguments they’ve used to pressure the No. 1 property/casualty insurer.

    Breaking this weekend, the campaign — titled “Intersections” — riffs off the Illinois-based insurer’s long-held slogan (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”) in new ways, and from multiple perspectives.

    One spot shows a young consumer, caught at the intersection of “an 8 percent mortgage and a 3 percent raise,” but still saving money on insurance, a pricing nod more typical of Progressive or Nationwide. Another shows a father — his daughter driving spastically behind him — saying he’s at the place of “Daddy, I can’t wait to get my license meets I can’t believe my baby’s driving” — a reference to adjusting coverage to fit life changes, which closely echoes Travelers’ recent “Insurance. In Sync” effort.

    A third scene shows an agent on the scene of a fender bender, a service-related claim more typical of State Farm’s past efforts.

    Red dot marks the spot
    As in the other two, the agent declares, “I’m there.” In every case, the protagonist is standing on a red dot similar to a “You are here” marker on a map, which State Farm likely hopes will become as ubiquitous as the geckos, cavemen and ducks at the centerpiece of other campaigns in the increasingly free-spending category.

    State Farm’s VP-advertising, Mark Gibson, said the apparent similarities to the pitches of its deep-pocketed challengers was a result of the insurer’s consumer research, not any attempt to mimic competitors. “What our competitors do is not a concern,” he said. “This is a big brand that can go very broad or very deep. … We’re really putting a bow on it.”

    State Farm managed to keep its market-leading share of premiums written stable at 9.8% in 2007, virtually unchanged from the prior year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. But holding share has been tough for its bottom line, as the insurer has been forced to cut prices. Net income rose 2.6%, to $5.4 billion, in 2007, but only because the company declined to pay a companywide dividend. Its underwriting profit actually fell 79%.

    State Farm spent $319 million on measured media last year according to TNS Media Intelligence, less than Geico ($559 million), Allstate ($370 million) and Progressive ($371 million).

    Becoming more visible
    Mr. Gibson wouldn’t say if the new campaign would see more spending, but he did say that the brand would be more visible than in the past, including more-aggressive digital and guerilla marketing. The push will kick off this weekend with home-page takeovers of major web portals such as Google, Yahoo and MSN, as well as a television presence on “selection Sunday” for the NCAA basketball tournament.

    It will also employ mobile billboards, street teams and what Mr. Gibson described as “unexpected” executions in venues like shopping malls and retailers throughout the country, as well as a large presence at several NCAA tournament sites later this month. All of these will emphasize the “I’m there” platform, Mr. Gibson said.

    The campaign will be of particular interest in the advertising community because it represents the last project for Mr. Tilley, who committed suicide last month. Mr. Tilley spent his last day on the job in New Orleans helping wrap up the campaign.

    Mr. Gibson said Mr. Tilley played a key role in the campaign’s development, and seemed pleased with the final product.

    This post contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this post for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

  • dbs

    The DDB Chicago agency press release:
    (includes footage of the “Daddy, I can’t wait to get my license meets I can’t believe my baby’s driving” scene)

    The State Farm press relase:

  • curmudgeon

    How about supporting a Driver’s Ed Reform law that:
    -Doubles the number of classroom hours that new drivers must take to earn a license;
    -Mandates 3 hours of classroom “Share the Road” training, and the curriculum would be designed by the League of American Bicyclists.
    -Reduces the number of points necessary to lose the license.
    -Include 3 hours of classroom “Share the Road” training in points reduction classes, court diversion programs for drivers, etc.
    -Loss of license also means temporary loss of vehicle until the license is restored;
    -Criminal penalties for anyone who allows their vehicle to be used by someone whose license has been revoked or suspended.

  • Bjorn

    I was really surprised when I saw this ad since anytime a State Farm customer rides a bike instead of driving it saves them money. Car wrecks scale pretty well with mileage so driving fewer miles and bicycling more instead will reduce claims. You would think that biking to work would be the kind of thing they’d like to encourage.

  • scotto

    Pay-by-the-mile auto insurance is by far the most important step State Farm could take.

    Not only would this save frequent bikers a ton of money, but it would add an incremental cost to each car trip; miles driven would be sure to drop and miles biked would be sure to increase.

    The next best thing they could do might be to offer separate bike insurance. We’d have to see what they would charge, but you might be able to get a low price with a lower deductable than you get with renters or home insurance.

  • Sean

    Two quick thoughts:

    1. Investigate the link between bike-friendly cities and insurance claims and, if positive, immediately institute a discount for drivers who live in a League of American Bicyclists-designated Bike Friendly City.

    2. Jump to a broader livable streets perspective and make a substantial contribution to the Safe Routes to School program. Kids. Health. Safety. Community.

  • Tim Van Hoof

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am sorry the advertisement offended anyone. Our intention with this particular ad was to recognize and empathize with the everyday challenge of high gas prices, and suggest that State Farm could help by providing lower auto insurance rates than a person may be receiving from their current provider.

    But clearly we have heard your concerns. In fact, we take very seriously each letter, email and blog comment we receive.

    During the past few days, I discussed the perception of this advertisement with others at State Farm, and we decided the right thing to do would be to discontinue it. We will remove this ad as quickly as possible from the current rotation schedule.

    Please know that State Farm is very concerned about doing what we can to improve the health, safety and environment in our communities.

    For example, in numerous states, employees can earn up to $1.50 a day by ridesharing, walking, or riding a bike to work. We also have more than 1,200 employees participating in van pooling throughout the country.

    As I mentioned in my earlier comment, State Farm has also been a supporter of bicycle safety through the thousands of bicycle rodeos we’ve held for children throughout the US and Canada. We remain open to discussion about how State Farm might partner with the bicycling community in the future.

    We value direct consumer input as we make decisions about our advertising messages and safety programs. As a mutual company with no stockholders, we work hard to be good stewards of our policyholders’ money.

    For more information about State Farm, go to or talk to a local State Farm agent.

    Thank you,
    Tim Van Hoof
    Director of Marketing Communications
    State Farm

  • I’m a photographer and I go to all my photo shoots by bicycle ( I have tried to get insurance for my cargo bikes but no insurance agent has taken me seriously! I send out queries and I either get no response. I’ve met with agents from State Farm and Farmer’s Insurance and they look at me as if I’m crazy and give me a smug no without even TRYING to accommodate me.

    I challenge State Farm to have an agent contact me and offer me a protection plan like any other legal road user.

    SF you can contact me through my site..

    Email is listed there.

  • Channeling Teresa

    My old boss from the agency days, Teresa, a worldwidely-renowned branding genius sent this 12-Carat plan (Lew, are you there? Teresa really likes Vespas…)

    Hey you,

    Even car insurance companies should be more interested in being VISIBLY green.

    1. Fuel-efficient cars get a lower premium.

    2. PT bike-riding workers get a lower premium.

    3. When a 16 year-old gets added to the policy, Allstate sends the kid a really cool bike.

    4. Allstate hooks-up with a bike manufacturer to make the freebie happen — lots of PR and parents will LOVE IT.

    5. The bike company then works out speedometers or tracking mechanism that relates the kid’s premium to the ratio between bike riding and car driving — obviously the more the kid bikes, the lower the premium.

    6. Adding your kid to the premium (especially boys) is hugely expensive — premium stays ridiculously high till they’re about 23 years old.

    7. Insert Vespa for Bike.

    8. Way cooler and still better than a car.

    9. Then run an ad with kids on Vespa going to Prom.

    10. Make alternative energy cooler — it’s no skin off an insurance company’s nose.

    11. Give DDB ad agency planners and creatives a new brief: “how can we make car insurance greener and people safer?” and riff on ideas like premiums, 16 year olds, fuel efficiency, vespas, babies, seniors, gather stats on safety and alternative modes of transport, figure out new ways to reward and incentivize people to do the right thing or be just a little bit greener, penalize those with bigger engines, brainstorm other partnerships, sponsorships, beside the usual suspects like car and bike and vespa companies. What could they do with starbucks which is a stop on the way to everyone’s commute? Like free espresso for anyone wearing a bike helmet, sponsored by Allstate.

    12. Don’t expect all people to ride bikes and take public transport — think of baby steps to get people at least moving in the right direction.

    Love ya, teresa

    P.S. Add this line to the “brief ddb” section. “Extend thinking to other insurance policies beside auto. Lower home owner insurance rates for people who use energy-efficient lightbulbs, that sort of thing…”

  • v. middleton

    this whole protest is sad and a bit pathetic..anyone with a grain of brain knows that using a bike is the way to go right now if you can. This commercial just lightens up a situation that we can do very little about and that is finding an economical way to get from point A to point B wherever you are in the country.
    If State Farm is smart they will use this whole thing to it’s advantage. Just rehabilitate Jim through a series of commercials with him and Shiela. Everyone is into rehabilitation these days. Make it right and move on. If it is generating this much concern in the public eye a script writer could catapult the commercial to an award winner. Remember “wheres the beef”, Alka seltzer” and “coke”. Work it people……work it. Both of these characters are likable and creditable looking.


Friday Jobs Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers. Looking for a job? Here are the latest listings: Mid-Senior Level Planner, Alta Planning + Design, Berkeley, California Alta Planning + Design’s […]

Public Spaces, Now More Than Ever

Is the whole plummeting economy thing forcing you take stock of what you truly value in life? Yep, us too. And we’ll take a wild guess that accessible, beautiful public spaces are on the short list for you as well. Photo by Petra and Baby Z via Flickr. Which is why, today on the Streetsblog […]