France's government has decided to require that automakers promote walking, biking, or taking the bus in their ads. Starting on March 1, 2022, ads for new cars will have to display one of several green slogans regardless of whether they're in print, on a screen, or on the radio.
Ad agencies will have three messages to choose from: "pour les trajets courts, privilégiez la marche ou le vélo" ("walk or bike if you're taking a short trip"), "pensez à covoiturer" ("remember to use car-sharing services"), and "au quotidien, prenez les transports en commun" (use public transportation for everyday trips"). Print, online, and television ads will also need to display the hashtag #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer (#MovingPollutingLess). Companies that don't comply with the new regulations will be fined up to 50,000 euros (about $56,500) per day.
The law adds that the message needs to appear horizontally and in a space that takes up at least 7% of the ad, so companies won't be able to get away with hiding it in a tire or somewhere off in the distance. On the radio, the message has to be legibly spoken at the end of the ad.
Response to the rule has been mixed. Volkswagen told French newspaper Le Monde that it plans to comply with the regulations. Hyundai's French division will comply as well, but its CEO raised a few issues with the government-mandated messages.
"There's a paradox: the law doesn't differentiate between the different powertrain types. That's a bit counter-productive if we consider that the government wants to increase EV sales. I think it also takes away personal responsibility, and it stigmatizes the car. It means that, broadly speaking, we need to find alternatives to driving. It's the first time that the government sends such a direct message. If I'm going on a short trip that requires taking a busy road, I'm not going to walk or take my bike," said Hyundai France CEO Lionel French Keogh.
Similar messages already appear on some food products. Mars needs to tell French consumers to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables daily when it promotes its Snickers bar. Meanwhile, tobacco manufacturers have been banned from using any form of branding since 2016.