Monday, August 31, 2009

16 The Fun & Modern Day Magic Of Bike Advertising

That bicycle companies will go to odd lengths to market their products is clear when you pick up their catalogs and flip through their pages. If you manage not to drool all over yourself and drown in your own puddle, you may come across some odd nevertheless interesting finds.

The word cheesy in the urban dictionary means "shoddy quality". And I think when you devise cheesy marketing and drive it towards someone and his pocket while trying to attracting their interest, its sort of like shining a bright flash of immodest light in someone's face, ordering them to go blind and start believing through faith alone.

Perhaps immodesty is the norm these days? I don't know. But I wonder what space aliens might think of us when they arrive at our desolate planet many years later and excavate our sorry remains. All those piles of papyrus junk containing cheesy advertising might put them off. They'll probably just fly back in their space ships disgusted.

Today's case in point for illustration :


Enter the Zipp Annual Product Catalog for 1993. I had this saved on my computer from sometime back and I doubt you can get this on the internet now.

Anyway, this piece of advertisement was a specimen alright. Open page 1 and you unmistakeably find yourself at the center of what they're trying to sell, an odd looking bike with bright red and yellow that does prove that red color has the marketing power of provoking emotional outbursts; repulsion could certainly be one of them?

And why, there's a quote on top of the prologue that asks the reader that he stop for a little more insight into this contraption. What might it be and will it inject him with some wisdom before his adventure?

It reads :

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

Of course, the great futurist and sci-fi author never said any such thing about a bicycle. It may have been hip in those days to quote Clarke anywhere and everywhere you found a spot begging for scientific blessing.

The quote is the third law in what is known as Clarke's Laws, provocative observations on the future of science and society that were published in his book “Profiles of the Future". The essays in the book covered a wide range of topics looking to as far as year 2100, exploring the conquering of gravity, conquering of time and space and so on and so forth. I wonder how an emasculated bike for half naked tri geeks connects with Clarke's imagery. It might have been the carbon fiber in the bike. It sounds space age.

Anyway, as we move on, we find more red and more yellow with blue and orange along with fancy graphs attached to unvalidated bursts of insight such as "our Zipp bike lets you save 19% of your energy at 30mph compared to competitor's frames." and how treating yourself to their "Ballistic Hubs" and "V-Rim" Technology" will never make you regret it, ever!

A question "what is there to think about?" adorns the end of that page, shooting the reader in the face for entertaining naughty contradicting thoughts and pulling him along for the rest of the thrill ride.

What is there to think about? Its basically just "Blazingly Fast"!

The next page is a full page motion blur image of a person riding on such a bike, almost like he's doing a 180 in a school zone. It seems to fly right past the reader and out of the page. That must surely captivate him. Wow, that is fast.

P.S : Photo editing sure works, but it must have been so bad those days that this rider in the blur came out to look more like Daffy Duck with a silly hat on than anything human.

Page 5 has another quote, another inkling of wisdom from great people :

"Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous." - Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel was talking about the fashion business and the creation of simple and elegant clothing for women. She quite possibly didn't give a French kiss about bicycles. But Zipp, perhaps to show how they both agree with each other's ideologies, throw in a picture of a track bike in a purple color so repulsive, perhaps the men at Zipp were taking their revenge out on the more fairer of sexes back home for nagging them so much.

Some near naked images of men show up in the following pages and then lo and behold, we are greeted with another quote, this time from none other than the late Prime Minister of India - Mrs Indira Gandhi. It is robust with grammatical error.

"My grandfather once told me that there was two kinds of people : those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there." - Indira Gandhi

Mrs. Gandhi was talking about the economic wisdom offered to her by her grandfather in a British India. If using Arthur Clarke to bless your bike was hip, quoting world leaders out of context with grammatical error while denigrating them between two near naked tri geeks was probably even hipper...or hippier.

But that's not all. After 11 truly entertaining pages of marketing, Zipp finally zips their campaign with one more imagery.

This is to suggest to us that they're winning the world over right from little Indiana.

A casual observer might see it as a harmless image. "What's wrong with that?"

Well, it would have been perfectly sane if it weren't for a final closer look at that odd flag at the 6 o'clock position. Let's magnify it some 200%.

What's this?!!

Why Ron, I've never seen anything like it before. Could it be the imaginary empire of Kuboojistan, told in tales by past house wives...that empire so mighty that their armies raped and looted other nations and had their flags miniaturized and sewn into theirs?

Or did the bleary eyed guy with the photo editor, late in the day, run out of space to place more flags of the world? Perhaps on finding that the coffee in the pot ran out, did he decide to call it a day and rush home after patching all the remaining flags together to form the mighty Kuboojistan?

I don't know. I maybe ignorant. But after this exciting exercise of swimming through a bicycle catalog risking being eaten alive, a reader could be forced to reflect upon the 3rd Arthur Clarke's Law :

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, indeed.

Except, the magic is not so much in the bike.

* * *

Do you have recollections of cheesiness in bicycle product ads? Write to me here. Let's laugh together and be merry.


  1. Trackasaurus3:58 AM

    That flag makes me laugh. Its the axis of evil!

  2. It's the former flag of South Africa, so yeah I guess the axis of evil is about right!

  3. I think Ron's joke is that the old South Africa is this fictional Kuboojistan created by the colonists of GB. Wars and civil strife all over some petty Imperial symbols. There was actually a second flag that native South Africans flew themselves.

  4. Anonymous5:29 AM

    How about that poster for Colmbia bikes that showed a monkey riding a bike with a Parrot on the bars? That monkey didn't look right at all, with its legs around the parrot. The tagline went "we are having a heavenly time".

  5. I had that Rob. Was just considering any of my colonial cousins who may not have been familiar with it ;-)

  6. Anonymous12:45 PM

    check out the spring bike! :)

  7. I thought this cartoon for Japanese bicycle safety poster was funny.

    And using the term "space age" to include bicycles was nothing unique to Zipp. Raleigh was into that too as this ad shows Quite funny.

  8. ......@ Anon 5:29 : Yes those Columbia Bicycle ads were hilarious. I found another one that should take the cake. The vintage ad was made into a comic strip that went by the title "Day dream Mike and his wonderful bike". The bike was marketed as having "flying action". Zipp's cheesiness does not come close as I think this was an industry wide phenomena! Not much better today.

  9. Jenny1:18 PM

    Hey Ron this is a hilarious post. You should Google image the Pearl Izumi "Insanely Anatomical" poster for their "Octane" kit. That was pretty interesting!!

  10. Jenny... boy oh boy, did they cross the boundaries with that one. :0 Pearl Izumi Insanely Anatomical!

  11. Jenny3:08 PM

    Yup I'm a female so like I said, it's really interesting!

  12. Richard3:22 PM

    I remember the Zipp 2001. Actually the bike was a sort of revolution if you will. It was pretty fast. I never bothered to read too much into the advertising.

  13. How the hell do you spot these things ... like the flag? I'm impressed. I wish I had your attention to detail. Maybe advertisement wouldn't work as well on me then? *b*l*u*s*h*

  14. Jeeze, is that Octane stuff supposed to be cycling wear, or fetish wear? =O

  15. Anonymous4:20 PM

    Its all in the advertising. Those Nomex core wheels they sell are structurally pretty weak and way too expensive. The only reason they went with that design I think is to lower the weight of the wheelset. If you want to kill yourself, they're a good pair of wheels to pick.


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