Here is an ad posted in the window of Independence Community Bank at Gold Street and Maiden Lane in Downtown Manhattan. There are at least three interpretations to this ad, which is the product of a debt-ridden, automobile-dependent culture.
First, on its face, this ad seems to be conveying a simple message: Use your credit card to buy gas and you can buy something fun and recreational … like a bike! Since you obviously have to buy gas anyway, you might as well get a consumer product out of it.
The second interpretation is the ironic one. It seems that the bank wants you to think that by combining the two things that are causing our country great problems — overuse of credit card debt and a bottomless appetite for fossil fuels — you will somehow magically obtain the thing that could have helped you avoid the ills of the other two.
Thirdly, and most ominously, is the cynical reading of the ad: If you use the first two too much, you’ll be stuck with the third as your only form of affordable transportation.
If the bank was aiming to convey only the first meaning, this ad would be better suited to a suburban location. Why would they post it at a corner where at least 90 percent of the people who see it will be on foot? Here in New York, where bicycling is actually a legitimate form of daily transportation (or even a livelihood), a good percentage of the people walking past will have no use for a gas pump.
I was first alerted to this ad by Futurebird, a middle school math teacher, who had some thoughts of her own.
This ad bothers me because they have misused the mathematical symbols. The text implies they are using the plus and equals signs as sequential causal symbols. The arrow used in a logical implication would make more sense. Or why not use some of the symbols from chemistry? I guess even adults think of equations as having a strict order, but in theory this means that bike = gas + debt, but that would make no sense in this context.
Properly used, the equals sign is a balance. It means having gas and debit are the same thing as having a bike. The sides are interchangeable — they have the same utility (travel). In a way this is true, but the analogy breaks down when you consider the externalities and monetary costs of driving.
For me, this ad reinforces the message I already believed: No need to go into debt over gas if you commute by bike.
- America’s Total Debt Report – Update 2005: $40 Trillion – and Soaring [Financial Sense]
- Bush says U.S. Addicted to Oil [Reuters]
- Credit-card delinquencies hit record: Pain at the pump is a major factor, according to the American Bankers Association. [CNNMoney]