FIRST PUBLISHED August 2002, A to B magazine.
Sexy advertising, Nudist Bromptons
It seems that New Labour now controls the biggest advertising budget in the United Kingdom – no less than £143 million last year. One wonders where it all goes. Particularly galling, given that asthma, obesity and heart disease are on the increase – together with less quantifiable but equally costly ailments such as stress – is that not a single penny of this vast budget has been used to promote the benefits of cycling.
Like it or not, advertising really works, hence the enormous budgets of the car manufacturers. Watch the ads, and you’ll believe – at some primeval level – that a car will make you smarter, sexier, more fashionable, or perhaps even a dab hand at wrestling bison to the floor. For who knows where such subliminal messages take root? These motor car ads are very tempting, of course – even for those who live and work in the inner city, and have no need for a car, or indeed anywhere to put it.
Meanwhile, the cycle industry has proved woefully inadequate – thanks to a seemingly terminal malaise – in fighting back in any meaningful form.
As the car manufacturers are aware, the vague promise of sex and/or bison wrestling, shifts product, even where the product concerned is a complex, smelly, dangerous and in some ways rather unsavoury machine, both for the owner and anyone within range. Bicycles, as everyone knows, provide health, wealth and speedy A to B transport, even before sex and other perceived benefits are brought into the picture. One might assume that cycling would be a self-publicising activity, but in a world of skillfully spun subliminal messages this appears not to be the case; hence the free-fall in bicycling usage.
Actually, a small band of overseas cycle industry players are quite good at selling two-wheelers as lifestyle accessories, and although most of their copy is directed at the German and Dutch markets, a little finds its way over here. Take Shimano, for example. Its utility bike products vary from the jolly good, to the downright pathetic, yet their market image is a crafty blend of high technology and user-friendliness. And how does Shimano sell these utility products? Why, with sex, of course! And the company has learnt the vital lesson – familiar to car manufacturers everywhere – that a sexy lady sells product to both men and women.
The delightful ladies in our examples are busy promoting the benefits of bicycling, even though the one on the left is sitting on a bar stool enjoying a nice cooling drink. But in marketing terms, she has good legs, and that’s all that really matters. Were she sitting beside a Ford Thrust Probe, one might be tempted to visit the showroom, but there are enough pointers here to indicate that she rides a bicycle. No outlandish Lycra or ungainly crash helmet, but a nice top, a short skirt and a fine pair of legs.
Presumably, lady consumers spot a means of toning their own pins to a similar state of perfection, while the men choose Shimano in the vague expectation of buying the delightful creature a drink on the way home from work. We older folk merely try to recall the days when we had either the legs, or the pulling power, or both. It doesn’t really matter how it works, but work it does. To be fair, Shimano’s utility advertising features a few young men and some carefully manicured older folk too, but the headline images are young, sexy and predominantly female. If the UK government were to spend a tiny proportion of that £143 million budget on images promoting alternative transport – not necessarily involving sexy young women, but you get the picture – it might make a start on tackling the transport crisis.
Elsewhere, thanks to the tireless efforts of Japanese distributor Mizutani, the Brompton certainly sees more than its fair share of sexy advertising, although beyond this column, little finds its way to the West. Strangely, the Brentford bike also seems to attract a vociferous following amongst the nudist fraternity, but one hesitates to suggest a reason for this.
This month, yet another example wings its way to these pages, courtesy of US-based Naturally magazine. In the Summer 2002 issue, Naturally visits Australia, where journalist Ian Maxwell purchases a New South Wales ‘Discovery Pass’ (‘a month’s unlimited travel on trains, buses, trams and ferries’) and sets forth to visit the state’s scattered naturist colonies by Brompton and public transport. All in a day’s work, eh?
Ian doesn’t say, but one assumes he donned clothes for the public transit bits. Either way, the mission was successfully completed, and all on a pass costing a trifling £70, or about £300 less than the British version. It all looks rather tempting from the viewpoint of a wet and dreary British summer. If nothing else, our illustration proves that our Australian cousins really do have glowing all-over tans. Naturally can be found at www.internaturally.com
One suspects there might be a lesson here for New Labour. If a shapely ankle can promote cycling, just imagine the effect of regular full-page full-frontal advertisements in The Times…
August 2002, A to B magazine