Friday Group Ride #249

Friday Group Ride #249

I spent most of my junior high and high school years as a skateboarder. These were the years spanning the late 1970s and early ’80s, years dominated by Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, and later, Ray “Bones” Rodriguez, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero. Those guys toyed with gravity and could do things with their toes inside sneakers that my fingers couldn’t pull off on a warm day and coated with rubber cement.

Skateboarder Magazine was my bible back then. It was my introduction to the great skaters, the great moves, the hottest equipment, great photography and wild new-journalism narratives. The magazine had it all. It also had one other dimension that captivated me: cool ads.

Yeah, some of the ads in Skateboarder were actually cool. Early on, the ad campaigns were product-driven and obvious. The Kryptonics ads were wildly effective at making a set of urethane wheels sexy. If their ad agency had been in charge of Paris Hilton, we might think she’s the greatest woman alive. Somehow those ads held the promise of fun in the pool or at the skatepark. Funny how a shot of well-lit gear can make you dream of how you want to spend your whole weekend.

But in 1978 Stacy Peralta teamed up with George Powell to form Powell-Peralta. Those first ads were anarchic. They presented a whole new take on what marketing could be for skateboards. They were completely image-driven. They didn’t show the riders pulling rad moves or touting the fantastic 36-ply African Bubinga wood decks coated with maple syrup and suction cups for perfect grip as you pull that fakie Ollie 360. (Well, there were a few.)

They set stuff on fire. To the 15-year-old brain they might as well have been passing out cocaine and hundred dollar bills. From that moment on, everything I bought was Powell-Peralta except for the Tracker Trucks on my boards.


I’m sure that sociologists would point to the influential period of life I was passing through as a big driver in why I connected with their marketing, but I still think there was more to it than the fact that I bought my first Powell-Peralta deck when I was 15. History tells us that Stacy Peralta was a genius and he was working with C.R. Stecyk III, whose peculiar resumé sat somewhere between performance artist and bomb maker, a certified parabolic genius if ever there was one.

The thing is, I’ve yet to encounter a marketing campaign half as cool as the Bones Brigade’s. Powell-Peralta didn’t just set the bar in my mind, they established a standard so high that no one else really understood it. Nothing in skateboarding has ever carried the power of the Bones Brigade. Those skaters weren’t cool. They were dorks—nerds, even. But they had mad skills and weren’t embarrassed by failure. It was that lack of artifice that made them utterly approachable.

Cycling could use a marketing campaign like that. Not the whole sport, but one brand that does something so unconventional, so without precedent, that the other companies snicker and think, “Yeah, good luck with that!” And then they suck in money like our Hoover eats sand after the kids go to the beach.

How I would love someone to turn all this marketing on its head. Hell, I’d love to be part of a team to conceptualize that campaign, in part, just to see what I could dream up. And there’s the rub. The only campaign I can think of that ever really inspired me, the only ad that really spoke to me at a visceral level was Seven Cycles’ campaign of “One bike, yours.” It was pretty genius in that it defined the promise of the company in only three words. But it didn’t speak to any larger social or hormonal drives I had. That may not be their fault, though, and honestly, I’m relieved not to have an as-yet undeveloped prefrontal cortex awash in testosterone and dopamine, because we all know that’s the bouillon cube of, “Hey, watch this!”

So this week’s group ride asks, whose branding do you like? Is there anyone within cycling you think is killing it? Whose efforts outside of the bike industry speak to you? And who do you think is ripe for a makeover?


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  1. Jan

    I imagine sociologists might also point out your gender, social class, and race as issues as well. I’d like to imagine that really creative ads would appeal to women as well as men, and to people of different social classes and races.

    One of the problems with biking in the US right now is that it’s thought of as largely male, largely upper middle class, largely urban. If we really want to make biking central to more peoples’ lives, then we may need a variety of ads to appeal to different folks. Or we might need to hope for more inclusive ads, and a more inclusive biking community.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    Branding? SOMA Fabrications. They tell where there frames are made and from what. Killing it? RKP. Outside the bike industry? Godin and Traynor. Makeover? Trek, for years. Probably won’t happen.

  3. Steve

    It is more mountain bike related, but Salsa Cycles has carved out a niche in products and marketing that works for me. They were an early proponent of 29″ wheels, and were an early proponent of fat bikes. Both are now pretty mainstream.They are a very small player in the bike market, almost non-existent in the road world, but their “Adventure By Bike” idea seems to capture the idea of a bike as a tool for having an adventure. They have posts from sponsored riders and other people doing bike packing trips, GDR racers, more of the endurance and backcountry stuff.

    I am not sure they are “killing it”, but I find it more appealing than the Specialized/Trek standard issue marketing. Then again, I have always had a fondness for the smaller companies…

  4. DavidA

    Branding…Assos….Ridley…. Killing it….Williams Wheels…..Outside the Industry….WestMalle Trappist …Jumbo…makeover….Trek for sure.

  5. Author

    Thanks everyone! This topic has been on my mind for ages; it didn’t occur to me that it was apropos for an FGR until I needed to step in and give Robot a break. He’s on our coast today for work, which means that he has a near vacation—no snow and no FGR.

    John: In what way? Good, bad or brain-damaged?

    Jan: Word. It makes for a huge challenge. Powell-Peralta didn’t need to appeal to anyone other than teenage boys. Makes things simpler, huh?

    Pat: That was dynamite even without the nod to us, which gave me chills. Wow.

    Keep ’em coming!

  6. Aar

    Within the bike industry, I think SRAM’s marketing started killing it with the introductions of Red and XX. Their overall questionable product performance slowed them until their abject PR failure with road/cross hydraulic disc killed any marketing dominance they had. Skratch, Mad Alchemy and Abbey Tool Works are nailing the marketing of their products. Specialized is a real “Steady Eddy” with solid marketing supporting products that consistently meet expectations year over year.

    Outside the bike industry, Apple’s marketing remains red hot year in and year out with products to back it up. Lululemon is getting the marketing right to the yoga and fitness crowds.

    Giant is ripe for a makeover.

  7. Jimmy

    The first Assos ad i saw is pretty ingrained. A from behind shot of a naked woman straddling a bike wearing only a painted on Assos logo on her ass. I was 14-15 then. It registered in both the libido and bike part of my brain.

  8. Matt K

    Castelli ads have always made me stop and look at them. Ambient shots of either suffering on the road or pre/post ride shots. My collection of their bibs and jerseys makes me think their marketing is working pretty well. The latest Neil Pryde, drag/no drag ad had me laughing pretty hard. Most Cipollini ads make me wonder who approves them. I don’t want to see an aging orange-tan Mario flexing on a bike in all white with a military theme in the background. It will not make me go look up your bike it will only make me turn the page faster.

  9. Full Monte

    Branding: In cycling – Pinarello. Beyond the slick ads, it’s their association with racing, Team Sky, Wiggo, Froome, their unique frame and fork design — they’re building serious brand recognition. Cannondale (loss of their most recognizable rider Peter Sagan notwithstanding) is coming on strong and props to Wilier Trestina for putting themselves back on the radar. However, for those who don’t follow racing, or are actually put off by professional cycling (see below), these branding efforts by the above companies may not even register.

    Is anyone killing it – (You mean “Killing It” as in doing it harm, or “Killing It” as in beating everyone’s a&&?) To me, when it comes to brand building and marketing within cycling, there’s an industry-wide disease that’s “killing it.” Too often (and this is true of every specialized sport or industry) the marketers rely to much on product differentiation gimmickry. Registered(R) and Trademarked(TM) names for layup technology, NVH reduction, geometry specifications, etc etc. Not to pick on anyone specifically, but the Oltre XR2 features X-Tex, WMP, UTSS…and, wait. WTF? Assos new shorts feature asymmetrical elastic module tech, A.E.M.T. and A.444.ergoKompressor. I’m not saying the Oltre or Assos bibshorts aren’t great products, they are, it’s just that in trying to differentiate their products from competitors, marketing teams spend too much time inventing words, phrases and feature definitions that confuse, rather than communicate.

    Outside the bike industry — My brand loyalty goes to Jeep. It starts when I was a kid riding around with Dad in his Jeep (then, made by American Motors). And later, when I tinkered on the last real Wrangler (my leaf-spring YJ), and this year, when I bought my wife a new Cherokee. Despite Chrysler Corp being swallowed by Daimler, then Cerberus, then bankruptcy, and now Fiat, Jeep continues to be one of the most iconic brands in the history of brands. And even monumental screw-ups by the Germans, private equity, and the US government hasn’t broken my affinity for the Jeep brand. Let’s hope Sergio Marchionne is as smart as his press clippings imply and he recognizes and stays true to the Jeep history and heritage. (The brand which follows as a close second for me: Fender Musical Instruments.)

    Makeover — Professional Cycling Road Racing. The entire system has evolved around a 100-year old business model that has so many governing bodies in so many nations, with so much competition for dwindling corporate sponsor dollars, regulatory agencies in separate nations often at odds with other nations and entities within the sport, a lack of schedule cohesiveness, race coverage…it’s just a mess. I mean, if pro cycling did not exist and I dropped the current blueprint in Brian Cookson’s lap and said, “Tada, here’s my business plan for the sport,” he and everyone else would look at me like I was stoned. Or crazy. Or both. I know there are some smart, influential people looking into how to remake pro cycling, studying other successful commercial sports like soccer (football) for cues, but man, try to explain pro cycling to someone just coming to the sport. Their eyes gloss over. Until and when pro cycling can reinvent itself — its funding, schedule, teams, broadcast revenue sharing, standardize races, pay schedules, all of it — it continues to be its own worst enemy to sustainability, let alone growth. (Close second for makeover, Astana, which is the poster team for consistently manifesting all the problems outlined above.)

  10. Stephen Barner

    It’s hard to connect with Assos’ or Rapha’s marketing–their stuff is just too expensive for the average bloke. However, somehow Brooks has managed to take one of the oldest companies in cycling and not only keep it from following Radio Shack into oblivion, but to actually make it thrive. It doesn’t hurt to be the only company in the world making a product that is actually superior for certain applications, namely long-distance cycling, but what other manufactured item has been in continuous production as long as the B17? A Stanley block plane, maybe, but, c’mon, how are you going to make 100 year-old technology cool? Somehow, Brooks has been able to do it. You may roll your eyes, as I suspect there are not many Brooks customers reading this, but it’s really hard to argue with success.

  11. Jim P.

    Ventana. To me, they are killing it. I love what I interpret as their branding. Their bikes, especially the mtn bikes are dead gorgeous. Branding? Make a seriously high quality product, work with good people, and treat people right and they will do your branding for you. My favored local IBD (that bearded guy on the SRAM moto behind Taylor Phinney at last year’s TOC) is a dealer. He is as class a guy as they come, rides their stuff, and is so stoked on it that he posts recent builds on Facebook. Drool factor 9.

  12. August Cole

    I’ve been drawn to Rapha’s black and white images, and videos because they remind me of some of my favorite rides, or maybe how I wish they had been. Powell was like that in that we could roam all over Seattle skating at different spots and imagine we were Lance Mountain or Cab. The thing is, whether we rode a Santa Monica Airlines deck or not, we still thought of ourselves kind of like the Bones Brigade in spirit, even if not in ability. That ability to transcend riding to make it about people not the actual decks or wheels was part of the power of that brand. With Rapha, it took me a long time (years) to give any of it a try because I had a hard time believing it could be that good because I thought the marketing was too effective. How’s that for a cynic. But I bought a pair of shorts, then a jacket, and then a jersey and it’s excellent stuff. There are other brands whose beautiful ad images (Gruber, etc.) are made with a quality that falls short of how good the marketing is. Powell had the product (except for Bonite — that sucked — and the brand. And on my cars today? One car has a vato rat sticker and the other a Swiss bones bearings sticker (to be fair, I was sticker bombed by a friend who got me back into skateboarding a little bit).

  13. Hoshie99

    Rapha & Salsa – I agree with what others wrote above. Very clear, purposeful branding that speaks to certain segments of the cycling industry.

    Scott – I think their cycling products are much stronger than their marketing and could use the makeover.

    For any consumer goods branding, not something I think of often. I’d say Porsche has an iconic sense of style that seems to endure through most generation of their cars. The 911 is a car that I wanted in my teens, dismissed in my 20s and 30s, and that yearning started anew now that I am in my 40s.

    I’d also suggest WD40 has brilliant branding. That stuff just works and everyone believes they need a spray can of it in their garage.

  14. toro toro

    Park Tool. Other people make equally good tools, and often for significantly less money. But their brand is 100% “blue chip” – they can charge a premium because they have built up a decades-long aura of absolute reliability. You simply don’t believe their gear is ever going to fail when you use it. And that’s not *just* because it doesn’t.

    Lightweight wheels. Not only amazing, but they have an aura that even comparable light & strong wheels that are more in line with modern thinking about width etc. just don’t.

    Cervelo dont quite have the ring of exclusivity they did a few years ago (I’ve got one now, for a start…) but the branding is still excellent – the “one paint-job per model per year” doctrine really helps keep the brand idendity well.

    Swift Carbon bikes are also building a strong profile, for a very young brand. I’m impressed with the unashamed “yes, we’re Taiwanese, because that’s where you want to do carbon” line; and impressing the lieks of me with that line is the whole point of constantly repeating it, and making sure the word “unashamed” occurs in that context at least three times per review…

  15. kurti_sc

    Salsa must have done something right. I always try to have some element of theirs on each bike i ride. I just got a replacement frame and was bummed when I realized my Salsa seat collar wouldn’t fit.
    On the roadbike side of things, I don’t really see anyone ‘killing it.” Most road ads seem pointed and tame. I guess I get sucked in more by the anarchic stuff like the ol’ bones brigade stuff you refer to above.
    A company ripe for a makeover…maybe Thomson. They’ve been none for great mtb posts for years. Now, they have a pretty stellar road bar and are broadening their base.
    Lastly, …Indy Trucks all the way. what are you thinking with Tracker? 😉

  16. Don Jagoe

    I’ll admit it. I love Rapha. The semi-hip, vintage, elegant, bygone-era ethos speaks to me and I think that the movies and blog entries are great stuff. Sometimes if I’m stuck at the computer for hours at end, I’ll watch a Rapha Continental ride and just imagine I am there (and have the legs to keep up.)

    Moreover, like Assos, I find Rapha’s merchandize worth the admittedly high prices. So far, everything I have gotten in either place has proven the adage that you get what you pay for. I have an Assos Deepwinter Base Layer that literally cost me more than my first car. But holy cow, when it is 20 degrees outside and the wind is blowing, it is soooooo worth it.

    Having said all that, I honestly think RKP is killing it. If you served coffee I’d hang out here all day long…

  17. David

    I have a nicely outfitter Alva deck and an Achilles that will never be the same. So much for revisiting my mystic youth.

  18. marvo larvo

    i’m a skater on or off the board
    i’m a cyclist only when i’m on my bike (and for the first 10 minutes post-ride at the coffee shop, then i turn into a doosh)

  19. michael

    Grew up skating from the early 70’s and began racing bikes a few years later. For Peralta it was a mix of DIY punk rock and slick new wave. Besides wanting the gear and be able to pull of the tricks, you wanted to be part of the team. That is what Rapha has always pushed to me, very stylish guys in great settings that are not the pro but cooler than your club. You want yo insert yourself into the pix. Peralta had cleaned up the Dogtown graphics and brought the nerds. I loved Steve Olson checker board and buzz cuts, but bones brought the team.

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