There’s a significant few Australian companies that are actually doing a competent, varying to good job of making bike stuff for us down here in Australia. Some of them are even exporting to elsewhere, and getting the idea out that Australia knows how to do bike gear. Velocity springs to mind, and Avanti (well, NZ, with Oz connections), and Netti, as well. I like Netti clothing – they do a good uncomplicated, unadorned line of functional everyday bike clothes, with some standout products, for mine – their wool undershirts and their long cold-weather knicks (hmm, not in the catalogue any more). They balance this out with a few fairly undistinguished offerings in other areas – baggy cut in the arms of some jerseys, with patterns for upper-body garments which seem to have been sourced from other sporting disciplines, that don’t really fit cyclists.
They have a good stable of brands that they act as importer for – Scott Bikes (I own a CR1 – a great handling road bike), Brooks, Fi’zi:k and Selle Royal saddles, Fox suspension (the choice of many who know what they’re doing), Camelbak hydration packs, Dahon folding bikes. So, they know good products when they see them. In all my dealings with them, working in bike shops, they have been courteous and pleasant, and prompt with orders.
It seems this wasn’t good enough for them, this competent stolidity. I think they realised that they were the choice of the average cyclist, ordinary, boring, everyday – with their fluoro yellow hi-vis (cheap) rain jacket a byword for protective cycling gear amongst average commuter and weekend cyclists. Things needed to change, things needed to get edgy.
They’ve gone all funky retro font scrapbook mashup with the website, and started to spread the advertising out into the mainstream media. In anticipation of Le Tour, they’ve put a footer on the front page of The Age sport section for the last week or two, which is what caught my eye vis á vis this post. Yay. But it’s the message on it that concerns me.
Basing your advertising ‘push’ around the phrase: “God created hell because he hadn’t thought up cycling yet“, with the sub-head “The pain will set you free” has a few messages I don’t think they had time to unpack at the creative conference, after spurting it out in front of everyone all over the conference room table, in between the smorgasbord vol-au-vents and the hot tub session in the evening. Sounds edgy, sounds exciting, sounds like the ‘120% committed’, ‘feel the burn’ cranially-implosive personal trainer-manual-speak that some of the 20-something creative consultants might have brushed shoulders with on their way to the solarium.
I don’t want to cast aspersions on the theological qualifications of 20-something marketing creatives to make pronouncements on the fate of the immortal souls of people who happen to ride bikes (there’s guys in white dresses in Rome, Jerusalem and Mecca who have that in their job descriptions), nor their somewhat ambivalent relationship towards the practice of sado-masochism , but how this relates to what has been, up until now, a somewhat dowdy, functional range of cycling wear. It’s sort of like buying your elderly aunt a set of erotic lingerie, and forcing her to engage in activities more often seen in cinematic presentations with ‘R18+’ on the front cover. I know part of the process of shifting units, in these new, fast-paced, viral marketing times, is constantly re-inventing yourself in newer, edgier forms, but the end of this process, if you take it to its logical (or absurd) conclusion, is is selling any old tat dressed up with a brand name. Prostitution, in other words. It works for several online retailers, so why not good ol’ Auntie Netti? “Give me back the crotchless knickers, Auntie, they don’t suit you – you might get a disease”. Ooops, too late. Well, I hope it’s not going to knock you up for too long.