I just got the latest digital copy of a mtb mag in my inbox today, so, as one does, I rushed over to have a read. Nice deal this digital delivery thing and I save a tree… or a leaf.
I find it interesting after all these years, that there’s still stuff to write about when it comes to mountain biking. It’s a good sign and means that it’s still progressing in new directions and there are still things going on that are interesting. Admittedly I might glance over half an issue but there’s always something that catches my eye or mind, a picture or an article. I like that.
This time around though, what struck me right up front was the tone of many of the adverts. Why it struck me is that we have worked on print and digital adverts for cycling in the past, both for our own things and for clients and while I personally have a love hate relationship with advertising and the mechanics that are associated with it, there’s no denying it’s a necessary evil.
So when I perused the adverts of many companies it only enforced the love/hate relationship thing and as I/we rack our brains to design adverts that are simple and as they say ‘on message’, I am left pondering many of the adverts I am looking at.
Terms like, ‘we have a superior this’, ‘adjust this, be that…’, ‘ride with a winner’, ‘make every ride a victory’… you get the drift, abound and if you read bike mags, you’ll know what I am talking about. I can’t help but wonder just what has become of mountain biking… or at least what has it become to the advertising world as several decades on it’s still the same old thing? Certainly you will never see an advert penned by yours truly that says any of the above because of one simple reason… for the vast majority of people that I know and ride with, riding a bike is not about any of the above and while everyone has their own reason and finds their own ‘inner thing’ when it comes to riding bikes, for most out there riding is about having fun, not about being a winner first and foremost – and that includes those who race. Yet despite this many of today’s adverts tell you that it should be, and is mostly about, victory and winning.
And that’s where I have an issue.
If you are constantly are being told that you should be winning, going bigger, harder and faster, eventually you might find out that you can’t (the easy or hard way). That leads to disappointment and, as I have seen all too many times in the double digit years I have been riding, giving the whole thing up. That is bad for the ‘sport’ (did I mention I hate that term??). While I see that it will be argued that this marketing approach ‘sells more stuff’ because it drives aspiration, I will counter argue that it escalates things to the point where it’s just so much white noise and only works in building an increasingly jaded audience, or worse, a population of self absorbed riders. Already we see increasing signs of this happening and that will eventually lead to a shrinking participation base as a whole as people either tune out, turn off, or eventually step away altogether.
What’s more, the growing band selfish behaviour is becoming all to prevalent, both on the dirt and the road. Pushy riders who have little concern for everyone else just as long as they ‘achieve’ the goal sitting in their mind’s eye. Some now call this ‘Strava’ behaviour (while Strava’s cool for what it does technically, it is demolishing many of the social aspects of riding) but I personally think it starts even before the rider leaves their front door, or even their couch. When one is bombarded with messaging that tells you you HAVE to go hard, fast, and be a victorious hero (and you are one to be so convinced), then everything you do will be to that end, regardless of the net impact it has on those around you.
That is bad.
If we see this very thing happening in so many other aspects of society and people stand around scratching their heads wondering why standards of societal behaviour are slipping and advertising messaging needs a good looking at, could it be so hard to understand why the same things are happening in the cycling world?
Do I have an answer to any of this? Hell no. If I did I’d bottle it and move to the Bahamas on the proceeds. What I’m saying is that riding should be fun, products should be good and advertising, well, it could be a hell of lot better than what it is.