Mar 15, 2011

Cycling and marketing

If you think about it, the two go hand-in-hand fairly frequently. If you ride for a team or a club that has sponsors, each time you put on your kit, you become a riding billboard, promoting local businesses, companies and bike manufacturers. There is really nothing wrong with that. After all, if someone sponsors you by offering discounts or free products, a great way to thank them is to proudly display their logo.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a slight shift in marketing as it pertains to cycling and I’m not sure that I’m that crazy about it. In fact, I don’t like it at all. It’s one thing for a cyclist to wear a kit displaying logos, it’s quite another to use social media to become a spokesman for it.

I know Radio Shack is a name team sponsor, but does that mean that all the guys on the squad have to tweet about how they love the new phones they just got at Radio Shack? There are more recent examples, like Ted King of Liquigas promoting Speedplay pedals. And only yesterday, there was a quite a bit of chatter from the Garmin-Cervelo squad about New Balance footwear. The examples are frequent and numerous.

If Ted King really loves his Speedplays, I don’t have an issue with him tweeting about it or “independently” promoting the product. Similarly, if Dave Zabriskie really hasn’t worn anything other than New Balance in the last decade, I don’t mind him mentioning it. I would also understand if either of them kept quiet about non-sponsoring, competing brands they really like. After all, sponsors are in great part responsible for their salaries and it’s not smart to go against he hand that feeds you.

The problem for me is that I am now unable to distinguish between genuine opinion and marketing shtick. I value the opinion of the pros about the equipment they use because unlike most of us, they use more of it and they use it more, which in essence makes them experts. But if they are experts who only give an opinion directed by the powers above, then all that wealth of knowledge becomes hidden somewhere under the all mighty dollar.

I’d prefer a half-truth to total BS. If a pro cycling team gets equipment and some of its members really love it, have them promote it. Don’t force those who are just okay with it turn into corporate sellouts. It’s not healthy for the sport and it makes me value all of their opinions less because I have no way to distinguish between fact and fiction – and doesn’t that actually hurt the product? Isn’t it bad when potential buyers aren’t certain of the validity of the opinions and reviews? We already know that the cyclists are being paid a salary by the sponsor they are promoting, adding a fact that they are being “forced” to promote it just makes the promotion even more specious.

Bikers were put on teams to ride their bikes, not sell merchandise. Let’s keep it that way. 

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