Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bicycles in Product Branding

Having dabbled in marketing in the past with an emphasis on branding, I am always interested in the associations manufacturers use to add appeal to their products. And of course when bicycles are involved I take notice. Looking at how bikes are presented in product branding, there are multiple themes. For instance here is a cycling cow selling ice cream. It's a cute image but why that specific cute image? Well, let's see... The cow is riding a vintage delivery trike loaded with steel dairy containers. So the idea here is to associate the brand with old fashioned methods of production and distribution. This is echoed by the word "creamery" in the name.

And here the idea of cycling is subtly used to associate the "zero calorie" lemonade with weight loss, while the penny farthing imagery goes nicely with lemonade's old fashioned appeal. There's the "honest" thing as well, which I've noticed in other foods that picture bicycles on the label. Do we associate bicycles with honesty?

Wholesomeness maybe, or nature - suggesting that the food is organic and "honestly" obtained regardless of whether that is so? Could be.

Penny farthings are used as symbols of old timey-ness across product categories. This perfume manufacturer uses it to suggest vintage elegance, congruently with the antique look of the bottle and the distressed label. Curious, I smelled the perfume. Sort of floral and dusty, but not too heavy. I suppose it goes with the vintagey presentation, though personally I associate cycling with fresh air and not perfume.

At the same time, bicycles can just as well be used as symbols of contemporary culture. 

I see more and more clothing and accessories where bicycle references serve as shorthand for a "hipster" identity.  "This garment is for the cool urbanite who rides bikes, or wishes they did."

The bicycle can also suggest fun, whimsy, levity. Drinking from these cups promises to be fun because of that bicycle imagery. To some extent this might also be behind the increasing popularity of bicycles on alcoholic beverage labels.

Do bank notes qualify as a product? I guess they do. Someone designs them after all, with both function and aesthetics in mind. While in Antrim, I was intrigued to discover there is an antique path racer on the Northern Ireland 10 pound note. I looked it up, and learned it is in honour of John Dunlop, who invented the pneumatic tyre whilst living in Belfast. So here the bicycle is part of a narrative about heritage - with additional implications of self-sufficiency and freedom of travel. More than anything, I find it delightful to know that about a million people in Northern Ireland are walking around with pictures of vintage bicycles in their pockets.

There is always talk among bicycle activists about how to create positive associations with cycling in the public's eye. Meanwhile, other industries harness the already existing positive associations to enhance the appeal of non-bicycle-related products. Interesting how these things connect, overlap and feed off of each other. 

I wonder to what extent it is cyclists who find bicycle-branded products appealing because they identify with the bicycle, as opposed to non-cyclists whose imagination is engaged by the mere idea of the bicycle. I suppose it is probably both. 

39 comments:

  1. I see tv commercials with bikes in the background - like the Geico add with stunt cyclists in the background. I found a bicycle floor mat at Lowe's this past week. And, there is a bicycle messenger movie coming out August 24 - Premium Rush. I think marketing firms watch everything from the Internet to sales to determine what the public is interested in and uses it to get attention when selling products. I'm glad to see the bicycle themes cropping up.

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  2. Where did you find those mugs?

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    1. Urban Outfitters. But it was a few months ago.

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  3. OR, you could take the GM approach and try to associate riding a bike with being a loser. We should take heart that such an approach quickly wilted under a storm of ridicule.

    Your images are, at worst neutral, and mostly evoke positive images.

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    1. Those ads use such outdated concepts, they couldn't have possibly done well with the target market they were meant to appeal to.

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  4. That cow is so friggin cute!!!

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    1. It's like she has stopped to ask us something, but what?

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  5. I was always charmed by the iconic Bicycle playing cards.

    It might be that bicycles are both sophisticated and simple, and this makes for a beauty that objects such as automobiles do not have.

    Other objects have this quality: rocking chairs and other pieces of furniture that are articulated but not compound, such as futons (as opposed to mattresses and box springs).

    I think the more complicated things are the less they charm us, but we still appreciate some design. Bicycles hit that sweet spot simplicity and complexity.

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  6. I went clothes shopping and was surprised to see so many bicycles in window displays. But then again, GAP, Benetton and everywhere else are selling neon green tanks with highlighter yellow shorts. So maybe it's a high-vis clothing + bicycle thing.

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  7. It's funny that you should post this - I made my first bicycle-branded product purchase today - stamps from the Post Office. I think most bicycle branded items are kitschy, and are geared to get people to make rash impulse purchases of things that are in fact, unnecessary clutter. (The stamps were no exception - they're pretty corny, but I impulsively picked them over the DC Cherry Blossom stamps because there were bikes, even though I like the cherry blossom stamps way more design-wise. But at least I actually did need stamps...)

    That said, I never noticed bicycle branding until I started commuting by bike last summer. However, as a commuter cyclist who started doing so as an alternative to car ownership, I don't associate biking with old-fashioned or vintage anything, but avant garde.

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  8. Um, Fat Tire beer. Hello??

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  9. New Belgium is the king of bike branding. They put on cool events, but it hasn't got me to buy their ales. :-)

    Trader Joe's bread trike!

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  10. Not much of a beer drinker. Is there a bikey hard cider? Or gin?..

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  11. About 15 years ago I saw what I think of as the best example of bicycle branding; it was on a commercial on German TV. The commercial begins with a thirty-something couple riding their upright bikes down a road on a beautiful summer morning. As the commercial continues, it shows them riding through various typical scenes - a village with flowers, through a forest, through a field, etc. - all in beautiful cycling weather. It is all very idyllic, but as the commercial continues, you notice that there is no branding: there is just this biking through the landscape to a soundtrack.

    To anyone generally familiar with how commercials work, this seems more and more strange...the ad keeps going, but there is no clue what it is advertising.

    Eventually the sun begins to set, and as it is going down, the biking couple pull into their driveway, open the garage door, and begin putting their bikes away. As this is happening, the camera focuses on the Mercedes logo of their car in the garage. About the time you realize that this is the first branding you've seen, the voiceover says something like "Mercedes: for people who know there's more to life than just autos."

    Really a very effective ad (given that I still remember it), the more so because it didn't present cars and bikes as some sort of natural enemies.

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    1. Apparently Mercedes makes bicycles. They were probably advertising the bicycles.

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  12. I love that so many fashion clothing ads nowadays have bikes in them, it has put biking up into the ultra cool and fashionable realm.

    One odd and slightly related thing I noticed when I got my latest edition of "Treadlie", a very cool Australian cycling magazine, is that on the back cover there is an ad for high rise apartments, with them being touted in the ad as "A bike rider's haven" (but they also mention that the apartments have car parking spaces), it is a great day when biking sells real estate, and that access to bike paths is an asset!

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  13. What a great article. Having just recently retire and bought both a bike and a camera, never having been involved with either before, I feel inspired to collect my own set of images of Cycling Branding.

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  14. lovely post, and pictures (and you "actually smelled the perfume" - if all the pics are in your real world you live in a pretty aesthetic place, it would be a challenge for me to gather good images of bicycles where i am..), i saw a movie recently - "Proof", not very good - where cycling certainly seemed part of selling an innocent persona

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  15. yes there is a bikey hard cider, two if you count the apple and pear varieties http://pipsqueakcider.com.au/#pear-cider http://pipsqueakcider.com.au/#apple-cider

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    1. Australian! Nice. No US distribution sadly.

      Pear cider can be good. I like the stuff from Woodchuck.

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  16. To me the bicycle image in advertising and branding generally has a negative effect, when it's attached to something that has nothing to do with cycling. It's intended to impart a quality (as you note: healthfulness, hipsterism, antiquity) that may be appropriate for the product but has nothing to do with cycling per se. I suppose the same could be said about umbrellas and rainbows, but when I see something unrelated branded with a bicycle, I tend to be turned off more than anything else.

    Context, of course, is everything. In "The Prisoner," the Village's identification buttons all featured a penny-farthing, which made it ominous and creepy, but also helped to connote a place that was a bit out of time.

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  17. At least some of those images look like they're meant to evoke feelings of childhood nostalgia. Even people who don't ride probably remember having bikes as kids. And for most, that's probably a positive feeling, since for a kid, a bike is just fun, and a bike can provide their first real experience with freedom of movement away from their parents.

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    1. Oh right, the nostalgia stuff works well for the ice cream also.

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  18. I generally imagine that the imagery of the bicycle in advertising is meant to largely appeal to people who *don't* ride bicycles regularly. At least, from my own point of view, I don't go looking for things with bicycles on them when I go to buy something. I *do* make decisions based on aesthetics (especially when it comes to things like wine labels), but a bicycle on the label doesn't arouse any feelings of camaraderie or "oh, they get me" kind of things. If it's pretty, I might buy it, but that's because it's pretty, not usually because it's a bicycle.

    It seems to me, the bicycle imagery may actually have more of an effect on people who don't ride bicycles regularly - that sort of wistful "memories of a happy childhood" kind of feeling where you can remember actually having peaceful streets and wind blowing in your hair (as if that's some kind of irretrievable dream of the past).

    I don't know, this is completely conjecture, of course, but that's my initial thoughts :)

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    1. Also, more of often then not, I don't like things with pictures of bicycles of them simply because they draw the bike wrong, or I don't like the way the bike looks.

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    2. I'm the same with musical notation, it's almost invariably gibberish - really offputting!

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  19. in an interesting sidenote, I saw some sticker packages at Blick Art for "decorating" your bike. One set were racing themed, and one set were "fixie" themed. I can't actually imagine who would put them on their bike, but it was interesting to me that someone saw a niche for such products. They implied that bikes were "cool" and that one might decorate one's trapper keeper with them for extra style points :)

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    1. Also interesting that they figure those who shop for art supplies would also be into bikes. But... where would they carry al those art supplies if the choice is fixie vs roadbike?

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  20. One of my favourites:
    http://www.dutchercrossingwinery.com/

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  21. Last week in Charleston, SC, I noticed a billboard for -- all things -- Bojangles Fried Chicken (previous advertising peak: "It's Bo Time!") -- featuring a brightly-colored drawing of a woman in a skirt on a bicycle, with the slogan "It's a LOVELY day for Bojangles!" Sorry I didn't get a picture. Not sure if it's a personal reference to you?

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  22. Like Pavlov's dog , I see a bike,I mentally drool!

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  23. Here at Cork Cycling Festival we are very interested in anything bicycle and we love your blog!

    The final event of our festival this year (21-29th July) will be a Bicycle Fair and we are mad keen to source some bicycle-themed products. If anyone out there would be prepared to send some samples to us on a Sale or Return basis we would love to be able to add them to one of our stalls! please contact corkcyclingfestival@gmail.com if you're interested anybody.... !

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  24. Limerick Chocolate Cherry? I'm there!

    Lately, I've noticed that more and more clothing and department stores are using bicycles in their window displays. The creators of those displays are probably using the "hipness" of bicycles that you mention. At the same time, I think, they're invoking the associations with "simplicity"--perhaps of childhood or some other time--that many people have with bicycles. That can be very powerful in what are complicated and stressful times for many people.

    That's an interesting paradox: hipness and nostalgia.

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  25. The symbol of choice for the Telugu Desam Political Party in India is a bicycle. :) Interestingly, another competing political party uses a car symbol. Without even understanding the political structure in detail, you can see how the choices send two totally different - yet strong - political messages. Choosing a bicycle to represent the party identifies with something that is so part of the daily life of so many people that it becomes interchangeable as a symbol of something ordinary and necessary, rather than luxury and optional.

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  26. Oh my goodness, that 10 pound note!!! Thanks for sharing, I would have never known!

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  27. "Do we associate bicycles with honesty?"


    ...love and life and bicycles are about trust and balance - Nikki Giovanni

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  28. I wouldn't have thought about had I not just come across a deck: don't forget Bicycle Playing Cards, which have been around since 1885.

    When I was a kid that naked frontal female angel pedaling towards you was about the only excitement available of the female form, apart from occasional viewings of the "Miracle of Life" statue at the Museum of Science in Boston.

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  29. Love this blog! You have a great writing style and a great perspective. I am a recreational rider (and frustrated blogger who writes entries but neever finishes or publishes them) but your blog makes me want to ride AND write more. :) FYI - I work for 2nd St. Creamery and I stumbled across this blog entry from June and we would love to use this on our Facebook. May we? Thanks so much!

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