The Tour changed in 1930 to a competition largely between teams representing their countries rather than the companies that sponsored them. The costs of accommodating riders fell to the organisers instead of the sponsors and Henri Desgrange raised the money by allowing advertisers to precede the race.
The procession of often colourfully decorated trucks and cars became known as the publicity caravan. It formalised an existing situation, companies having started to follow the race. The first to sign to precede the Tour was the chocolate company, Menier, one of those who had followed the race. Its head of publicity, Paul Thévenin, had first put the idea to Desgrange. It paid 50,000 old francs. Preceding the race was more attractive to advertisers because spectators gathered by the road long before the race or could be attracted from their houses. Advertisers following the race found that many who had watched the race had already gone home.
Menier handed out tons of chocolate in that first year of preceding the race, as well as 500,000 policemen's hats printed with the company's name. The success led to the caravan's existence being formalised the following year.
The caravan was at its height between 1930 and the mid-1960s, before television and especially television advertising was established in France. Advertisers competed to attract public attention. Motorcycle acrobats performed for the Cinzano apéritif company and a toothpaste maker, and an accordionist, Yvette Horner, became one of the most popular sights as she performed on the roof of a Citroën Traction Avant . The modern Tour restricts the excesses to which advertisers are allowed to go but at first anything was allowed. The writer Pierre Bost lamented: "This caravan of 60 gaudy trucks singing across the countryside the virtues of an apéritif, a make of underpants or a dustbin is a shameful spectacle. It bellows, it plays ugly music, it's sad, it's ugly, it smells of vulgarity and money."
Advertisers pay the Société du Tour de France approximately €150,000 to place three vehicles in the caravan. Some have more. On top of that come the more considerable costs of the commercial samples that are thrown to the crowd and the cost of accommodating the drivers and the staff—frequently students—who throw them. The vehicles also have to be decorated on the morning of each stage and, because they must return to ordinary highway standards, disassembled after each stage. Numbers vary but there are normally around 250 vehicles each year. Their order on the road is established by contract, the leading vehicles belonging to the largest sponsors.
The procession sets off two hours before the start and then regroups to precede the riders by an hour and a half. It spreads 20–25 km and takes 40 minutes to pass at between 20 and 60 km/h. Vehicles travel in groups of five. Their position is logged by GPS and from an aircraft and organised on the road by the caravan director—Jean-Pierre Lachaud—an assistant, three motorcyclists, two radio technicians and a breakdown and medical crew. Six motorcyclists from the Garde Républicaine, the élite of the gendarmerie, ride with them.
The advertisers distribute publicity material to the crowd. The number of items has been estimated at 11 million, each person in the procession giving out 3,000 to 5,000 items a day. A bank, GAN, gave out 170,000 caps, 80,000 badges, 60,000 plastic bags and 535,000 copies of its race newspaper in 1994. Together, they weighed 32 tons.
Spectators have died in collisions with the caravan (see below).
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Famous quotes containing the words caravan and/or advertising:
“The dog barks, the caravan passes on.
The words had a sort of bloom on them
But were weightless, carrying past what was being said.”
—John Ashbery (b. 1927)
“Now wait a minute. You listen to me. Im an advertising man, not a red herring. Ive got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex- wives, and several bartenders dependent on me. And I dont intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.”
—Ernest Lehman (b.1920)