Thursday, June 5, 2008


I think I've seen that hat for sale recently at a bike shop.

There is an interesting video on the New York Times right now about the mythologizing of sports figures in advertising. You know, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc. The myth is that these are fun people with whom you can hang out, or if you're younger, aspire to be. It totally works for selling stuff.

That made me think about bicycles and cycling. There's a lot of marketing going on with that right now, but they don't seem to have the same approach at all. Bikes seem to be marketed to people who don't ride bikes with newspaper articles about boring alternative transportation non-profit types on hybrids telling you about gasoline savings. Or, if you already ride a bike, marketing consists of pictures of bike parts. To that end, a lot more people wear nike, drink gatorade, or drive buick rendezvous's. Well, not that many people drive those, but I bet there are more people around here driving a buick rendezvous to work than there are people riding bikes to work.

Nike and gatorade are so ubiquitous because they've moved passed being sporting equipment and into the territory of lifestyle accouterments. The people trying to do for bicycles are the aforementioned dorks. They're not going to be successful. That's not a lifestyle that very many people want to emulate. To make cycling a lifestyle accoutrement for more people than who are already involved in it (people with dui charges, fixed gear freestylers, mountain bikers, road bikers, bike messengers, and some other people), I think some cool sport/music person should do a commercial where they ride a bike, like Kanye West on his Cinelli track bike. (Or anything but Kanye West on his Cinelli). I guess current cycling heroes could be used, but people have only heard of Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis. I don't know why Lance isn't successful. I guess winning the Tour de France doesn't translate in people's minds as riding your bike to work and Floyd Landis makes people think that you need steroids to ride a bike.

What do other people think? It seems like for anyone to do anything anymore a big PR campaign needs to be undertaken. Bikes need to be rebranded as something other than a transportation alternative or something really difficult like racing in the Tour de France. Or, maybe everything is fine the way it is and we don't want anyone else riding bikes.

Also, there's been some really fucked up stuff happening in Hartford, the Nick Carbone and Angel Arce Torres incidents. People have a lot of opinions about Nick, but I've always thought he's a good guy. I don't know Angel, but I've met his son, Angel, on a number of occasions and he's a good guy, too. I don't have solutions, but we've got to do something before this becomes a fucked up summer. This is way too much violence.


Nomad said...

As someone who is just getting into biking for fitness, I can't help wondering if your wedge in the door - marketing-wise - is folding bikes. The coolness factor of such things makes them exciting to think about and stylish on the order of an iPod. Add to that the option to toss them into your trunk and bring them along or keep it under your desk for "when the mood strikes" and you have something that speaks to the modern lifestyle. It is all about freedom and mobility.

In the end, I am choosing a non-folding bike for the extra strength and features (and less cost) but the folding bikes were a gateway for me and for several of my friends who are now also planning to buy so we can ride together.

Brendan said...

That's a good idea.

It's funny, because when you ride bike, you perceive cool things as cool-bike things. When I see a custom steel frame, I think that's really cool. To the average person, they have no idea what sets that bike apart from any other one.

So, US weekly needs to start having pictures in "stars are just like us" of famous people with riding their folding bikes to lunch? (please don't think I'm being sarcastic there, I'm not!)

El Presidente de China said...

It's funny - on the one hand, I agree that utilitarian, commute cycling is inherently wonky and will never be cool, at least not in a marketable way (notwithstanding my own attempts to be a sponsored commuter). That is, in part, because styles that are utilitarian tend not to be cool. I mean, bib shorts? Seriously? Only hardcore cycling nerds can even muster the gumption to wear that stuff, let alone appreciate it. And my get-up this mornin - t-shirt, dress slacks rolled up to the calf, brown socks and loafers - was equally uncool.

Likewise, the whole gas saving bit is a hard sell, not only because it's boring, but because it's incremental. I mean, even I, with a really long commute, save only about $100 a month by doing my car-train-bike thing, so just recouping the cost of a bike would take a long time.

For my money, the only way really to sell bikes is to remind people how much fun it is to ride. Don't show Lance Armstrong grimacing his way up the Pyrenees or some dude covered in mud hopping a log. That stuff is just preaching to the converted. Show a thirty-something guy dressed in Banana Republic clothes toodling over the Brooklyn Bridge on a summer evening, then locking up somewhere to meet a cute girl for drinks, then they get a call and both hop on their three-speeds and go to a party on a roof deck. What's marketable about bicycles is freedom and warm breezes and no concern for parking or bus schedules or anything but drinks and friends and sex and fresh pastries.

That said, I think folding bikes could totally jive with my bourgeois/bohemian fantasy image. We just need to reach some sort of critical mass where we get used to them and they stop looking goofy.

Nomad said...

I had some time last night to think about this more and put some flesh on the bones of the concept. These ideas are offered freely and are "open source" so they can be modified and used by anyone. I am using Dahon for the commercial tagline, because they are the one I am most familiar with. Hopefully, they can serve as an example of the kind of thing I am thinking about to appeal to the iPod generation.


Commercial Idea 1: Meeting Escape

Open on a 20-something guy in a shirt and tie sitting thru a droning, boring business meeting. Guy looks across the board room table at a 30-something guy. They roll their eyes together. Then they each pull out their cell phones and dial a number surreptitiously. Suddenly, their pagers both go off and they excuse themselves with a "critical issue." They run to their desks, pull out a folding bike from underneath, and are out the door and on the open road in a few seconds.

Tagline: "Dahon: Freedom Folds"


Commercial Idea 2: Traffic Smarts

Open on a generic business person in their car in a large city. The streets are gridlocked with cars, trucks, and SUV. Horns are blaring everywhere. Our hero taps their foot in frustration and we hear over the radio that the whole city is stopped. Our hero gets an idea. They pull off into the parking lot of a fast food joint, park in the back, and pull a folding bike from his trunk. The bike is up in seconds, and we see our hero riding to work smoothly between the rows of frozen commuters.

Tagline: "Dahon: Freedom Folds."


Commerical Idea 3: Television Wars

Open in a generic middle-class apartment. Five guys and one girl are sitting around a TV watching some sporting event. The guys are into it and in full testosterone mode, howling and shoving each other around. The girl hates it, but tries to fit in. Switch to five girls and one guy in another generic middle-class apartment, watching a Sex-in-the-City-type sitcom. The girls are all leaning forward, entranced, and the guy is bored to tears. Split screen. After an egregious example of not fitting in (guys chest-bump, girls sob in unison) each odd-person-out tip toes behind the couch and pulls a folding bike from underneath it. The bikes are assembled and they are out and flying on the road in seconds. They pass each other on the road and high-five each other.

Tagline: "Dahon: Freedom folds"

chillwill said...

sorry dude, i gots to disagree. It'll not be cool as in super sucky mainstream like pop-hop, top 40 or prime time sitcoms. but it is cool like four-wheeling with old rovers, mountaineering, kayaking and whatnot. the old rovers being ultimate utilitarian in simplicity and lack or modern comforts. (bikes are very similiar)there's cool and there's soullessly popular.

i think utilitarian biking is super cool. i find any women doing it are extra hot! it makes sense. its liberating. it makes a lot of statements and really does do a lot of good. just more fun!

That said, I think folding bikes could totally jive with my bourgeois/bohemian fantasy image. We just need to reach some sort of critical mass where we get used to them and they stop looking goofy. - el prez

hey prez, minus the folding bikes(not needed), add a crusier or ANY bike and you just described Key West. They wouldn't even understand this conversation as everyone just rides bikes. Hartford needs to be more like KW and i am working on making that happen. no, WE are working on making that happen.

check the bluesfest last night in bushnell park: LOTS of bikes. Bianca, AmyZ, Rick, Joel, Rich H, Hanna, Maureen, TJ, me, and dozens of other people i don't know(but rest assured they got BBB flyers!)passed by on bicycles. We all get around by bicycles. its happening! and it is cool!

chillwill said...

ps. nice commercial ideas nomad.

we need to film one for dahon!

Brendan said...

kayaking/mountaineering/old rover stuff is a little demographic. wouldn't more people get on bikes if they had some kind of accessible celebrity endorsement? it's not something that we're particularly into, but most people are, right?

barack obama likes watching people race around the velodrome. think that'll help? he's a popular dude.

chillwill said...

celebrity endorsement? maybe. i guess i am more interested in stuff i (we) can actually do here. ya know?

my point with the rover/kayaking comment was just that those things are cool, really cool, but not mainstream popular. bike can be the same, super cool, but not sold out cool. i am starting to confuse myself here!

you are prolly right about celebs, but good luck making that happen! that's gonna take a big budget!

it easier to lead by example and just be cool! i believe there are many many, more people who would ride to work, the grocery store, bars, the theater etc, like we do, if they knew how easy and fun it could be. how will they know this? well, by watching us! by programs like the CCBA's Bike Everywhere! program.

we have to make it cool...and we do! the simplist bicycle advocacy is also prolly one of the best - and that's just riding your bicycle!

this is the time too! being green is trendy right now. and, good. we gotta ride this wave and help ensure its not just a fad, but a change in lifestyle. we an do this!

Karma said...

While I agree with many of these comments I have to argue that the success of the folding bike as a wedge can still only work for a limited portion of the cycling market.

While one of the best things about bikes is their versatility, there is also an inherent specificity. What I mean is if you are going to ride off-road you will (generally) ride a mountain bike; road, a road bike; commuter, a commuter; and if you are a messenger you will likely be found on a fixie. I often sense a feeling of prejudice or even elitism between each of these segments of bikers depending on an individual's particular needs. There are fewer people who blur between segments than those that reside largely within one alone.

One of the attractions of biking, particularly among younger individuals today is the segment that capitalizes on the counter-culture aspect, the I reject car-based transportation and the four-wheeled mobility of the man. In marketing to this crowd I doubt there will be an attraction to frugal, functional folding bikes. This is the crowd that wants the tricked out track bike, wants to roll on Campy, Cinelli, and Deep-Vs. They wouldn't be caught dead on a folder (no offense). As the marketing industry has noticed the buying potential of youth is astounding what I may be arguing, incredibly, is that perhaps it is the tattooed, unshaven, unshowered messenger slamming through city streets at breakneck speed that is the draw that would bring in (at least) this demographic and thus take bike culture to the next level (while simultaneously resisting it of course).

chillwill said...

ok, more thoughts.

brendan, you really are right about the celeb thing, Obama etc. i guess that's just not my fight, but i do see your point and i do think its a good idea.

i guess the fight i am willing to take on is more local and personal. i'd rather help/show/lead by example the joy of riding bikes here, rather than some big idea. i like being hands on ya know, and see real results right here.

but, i guess maybe a worry of mine is the corny, trendy overuse lately of track bikes and celebs for ads for gap or whomever. i think i am worried about making it too trendy, which means eventually, it'll be too not cool to be on a bike. i'd hate to see that happen.

Karma said...

All these ideas form the persistent conundrum of any style in that you have a choice between a genuine, slow-moving, and limited movement vs. the flash-in-the-pan, large-scale, more forceful trend. While I would prefer the honest and organic rise of the bicycle as a social staple there are so many people who might never discover their worth without the pop culture phenomena. The balance is tough, perhaps impossible to strike, so now we have to pick which is the preferable option.

chillwill said...

and i guess all,

we gotta market bicycling. that's it. not a single style or type. we gotta push it all, sell it all. i think most people into bikes have more than one and are interested in other types. fixie and bmx. road and mtn. road and cruiser. if cycling in general is sold, we don't have to worry about division. we don't wanna end up like the left and be all divided up, we gotta keep it about bicycling!

Karma said...

I wholeheartedly agree on this point, and I was simply following the original argument of what (if there was only one) would be the most effective marketing angle. I of course feel that biking should be packaged as a whole for all of its merits to all who would welcome it. While I do feel there will be a multidisciplinary core, I also feel that the fringes will always exhibit resistance to other styles and hell this just keeps things interesting and gives us something to argue and write about.

Brendan said...

Cycling as a sport is very inclusive sport of lots of weird little sub-groups: rich roadies, dirty mountain bikers, stylish fixed gear riders, etc. The one group it can't get is the mainstream. In fact, most mainstream portrayal of cycling is less than favorable:

El Presidente de China said...

I like Nomad's ideas about bike ads - but let's make them ads for the Xootr Swift Folder, 'cause, um, my free one is out for delivevry with UPS and you gotta dance with who brung you, you know?

As to what angle will get the mainstream, I agree with Nomad. Sure, there's an appeal to the counterculture messenger scene, but if that's the way you reach the mainstream, you won't stay mainstream long. That's reaching out for a segment of the population young enough to be still looking for a label, and ready to change and adopt new styles quickly - and discard them. I think the first best step is to reach people where they're at, culturally, and I think Nomad's approach is better.

Which isn't to say that some people won't also be lured by muddy mt bikers or spandex roadies. But the everyday is where it starts.

Brendan said...

to the prez: you're a respectable lawyer living in a respectable suburb. you could totally do any of those commercial ideas on your quality xootr!

Nomad said...

Mr. President,

As I sad, the ideas are "Open Source" so feel free to repackage for Xootr. :-) Or Giant, or Citizen, or whatever floats your boat.

As to the comment that the proper way is to market the existing subgroups/subcultures rather than catering to those who don't bike... I think you're putting the cart before the horse. New ideas seem to do best by having a single strong start which reaches out to the mainstream (think the iPod or the Toyota Hybrids) which can be followed up after acceptance by models/competitors which reach out to various niches (think the iPod Touch/Shuffle/Nano and the many Truck Hybrids out there now). Until you have society agreed that the idea itself is good, it is hard to make much from targetting the niche.

But I am not a marketing professional. Just an abserver/analyst who is planning to buy a bike today for the first time in 20 years. :-) I know what worked on me.

Karma said...

As I said before Im not arguing that the proper way to market this is to target subcultures (definitely not in the long term) but I will argue that there will be a faster, more substantial (albeit fleeting)impact to do so. I think even with the examples Nomad gives, the Ipod and Hybrids, their initial sucess was due to the fact that they built small cult followings among subgroups before they broke into the mainstream. The Ipod (and the Ibook) were patronized by indy, tech-savy, college types, and hybrids were the transportation of choice for the environmentally conscious. Their popularity among these subgroups eventually grew both due to their functionality and their cool factor. People are attracted to things that they feel will make them seem edgy or hip less than that which is deliberately the mainstream (although once these things become popular enough they will also be the mainstream). I agree that once the mainstream is established you can reevaluate and target niches further but I do think targeting small audiences for use as marketing for the mainstream can also be effective. The ultimate goal is to market to the mainstream but in doing this you will inherantly have to target some group if only due to the diversity of audiences in this country.

El Presidente de China said...

Karma, I think you've hit on something - early adopters are important. However, marketing to them is different than marketing to niche markets that are already into biking. So what we're saying, all of us in the aggregate, is that we want non-cycling hipsters to get on bikes. Also, I think the marketing to hipsters needs to happen in a way that doesn't make their adoption repugnant to the mainstream. iPods are a good example of mainstream-friendly early-adopter marketing; the current craze for fixed gears and "messenger style" is maybe a good example of the opposite, 'cause I don't think it'll sell in Peoria, or even West Hartford or Greenwich.