During the Tour de France coverage on SBS we were constantly bombarded by 2 ads, one for a car and one for a bicycle. There are important marketing lessons to learn from watching these with regards to encouraging cycling, so sit back for the next minute and watch them again:
Skoda Car Ad
Avanti Bicycle Ad
Now, ask yourself which ad engaged you more, and why.
They are both beautiful ads.
But the reality is, car brands have long understood that the target audience is, well, people. Not cars. So you need to engage people in the brand experience. A successful car ad incorporates people experiencing something unique about the car. For Skoda this is about being "clever" and "simple".
Now for the avanti ad. Like most bicycle ads, there is not a person in sight. "You" are mentioned twice. Avanti, "the evolution continues", "going forward", but no mention of people. "I" am not engaged.
TV ads are expensive, so finding examples of bicycle TVCs is hard in Australia. Print, on the other hand is cheaper, so there are more examples. But, if you're like me, you tend not to engage at all in print ads. In newspapers and magazines you expect the ads to be on the left hand side of the page, so you really don't look at that page at all. You expect the ads to be more colourful than the stories, so your eyes gloss over the colour. Similarly with internet ads, you ignore the pop-ups, animations, banners and towers, because you know that's where the ads will be.
Car brands understand all this, so often the print ads are simple, and often employ long copy in the hope that interested people will read it. But it's really about brand recognition and frequency.
Bicycle ads are often limited to bicycle magazines, so playing on features is fine, afterall the people reading the magazine have already expressed their interest in bikes by reading the mag. Engaging people in the ad would be better though.
Occasionally, bicycle ads are incorporated into mass media.
The image below was used by Apollo in 2007 in Good Weekend magazines and Australian Cyclist, with the tagline "where will it take you?"
The series of ads featured some nice scenic images, and incorporated people which is a big plus. In one of the ads, one of the cyclists was actually smiling!
The tag line is brilliant, but wasted. "Where will it take you?" invites you on a flight of fancy journey, but the imagery is very mundane, typically a couple of cyclists on a bit of road somewhere. If a car brand had run this tagline, they would have thought about the emotional connection between where people are now and where they'd like to be, eg, from office drudgery to exploring the great outdoors, from boredom sitting in your car in a traffic jam to experiencing the freedom and enjoyment of movement, from watching le Tour on TV to participating on your own bike.
So what? Who cares? Why does it matter?
If we want to get more people to cycle, and especially if you want to encourage commuter cycling, it is very important that we understand the trigger factors. The "thing" that will make people think "I could ride to work". And it starts with bike brands, just like car brands, differentiating themselves from each other in the minds of consumers. For commuter bike brands, the trigger needs to be an emotional connection with current car commuters, or dissatisfied public transport users.