Selling cycling – profiting from your fear and desires – part 2: lessons from Coke

Selling cycling – profiting from your fear and desires – part 2: lessons from Coke


This follows on from yesterdays post

As a quick summary, I’m playing with the idea that cycling needs to sell itself better, and to do that it might benefit from a new approach, but one which has been working like a charm for most other products since advertising was a thing. This approach is to take the deepest, darkest, and most basic fears that people have about life and link them to superficial products that promise to satisfy all of their desires and chase those fears away.

This is about the most impressive (and recent) example I can think of, which, of course, is completely disgusting.

Everything about this ad is patently ridiculous, and no person with two brain cells to rub together would believe that Coke has anything to do with anything in this ad whatsoever. But, Coke obviously feels that this is effective enough to be their big splashy campaign for the season, and I’m quite sure it works well enough.

It’s so simple. We are merely shown people having the time of their lives, experiencing love, friendship, lust, passion, excitement, belonging, deep contentment, fun, and joy, but not before we are primed with the strong, close-up image of a fresh, thirst-quenching, fizzing, refreshing glass of Coke. We want that. It’s good. We deserve it. It’s just a drink. It’s not hard to get, and it’s satisfying, so why not? And now, with that seed planted, we’re ready to desire the exhaustive litany of all the really wonderful things that life has to offer. And so, by turning the emotion in each scene up to eleven and slipping a Coke in each person’s hand, we are shown a series of disconnected but highly desirable and apparently completely authentic words. These words are demonstrated before our very eyes in short scenes by these real people who Coke just happened to catch on film and randomly linked together, but are, crucially, always initiated with Coke. Coke, Coke suggests, is the genesis of your heart’s every desire.

Now, Coke has some history behind it. It’s somewhat popular as it is, it’s fair to say. It doesn’t have much to overcome in terms of a negative image in the grand scheme of things. So, the marketer’s job is simply to make more people want more of it. Hence, Coke literally makes all of your dreams, the real, authentic, life-giving ones, come true. It’s magic. A magic potion. As far as Maslow’s Pyramid goes, this hits the third level (love/belonging) pretty squarely.

Whereas Coke wouldn’t likely do well with a campaign that tried to tell you that people would respect or admire you more if you drank it, a luxury car company probably would. Most products would match one particular level of the pyramid more than the others, but, again, most product advertising sits in either love/belonging or esteem, one level up.

So where does cycling fit in?

We want to get more people cycling, but we specifically want, and need for so many reasons, the kind of cycling that simply moves people around from A to B. The world needs more people using a bike for transport.

This is our focal point, our goal, but in terms of an advertising campaign, it’s still a really, really broad spectrum of possibilities. It will depend on which target audience we are trying to convince. From a previous post in this series:

So the product we call cycling is not transportation – it is whatever emotional or social currency that the specific target audience needs to have validated or satisfied. Trendoids may need to be sold that cycling is cooler than driving… Old people may need to be sold that cycling, which is fun and free, is better than all that expensive medication, which is imprisoning them in a financial, mental, and emotional fog. Young families may need to be sold that cycling is the best way to spend quality time with your children in your busy, modern schedule, to keep your kids (and you) from getting fat, lazy, stupid, and in need of Ritalin (edit – or that by not cycling with your children you will drive a wedge in between them and you and it will be the thing that destroys your relationship forever….). Middle-aged professionals may need to be sold that, in order to regain the golden years that they lost chasing after a career that brought them wealth and power but not happiness, they need to buy it in the form of a bike.

These would all be different ads targeted at different groups of people, but with the same goal. What I think is key, though, is that the message has to be that by cycling, they get something. Not, getting something good because you gave up something else that is bad. That’s sacrifice, and that’s not sexy. People want things, and they don’t want to have to give anything up to get them, so by telling them that they’ll save money by not driving, for example, isn’t as sexy as the ad telling them that women will sleep with them if only they drove one of these cars…

Again, we need to tap into something far more personal than simply saving on car parking expenses. We might need to go past the fact that they will be a bit healthier and happier, and way over to the place where what that really means is that they will be sexier and more attractive to people, or more popular, or whatever, so that, yeah, they can be happier. Same end-point, more convincing message (unfortunately). Will we lose our soul if we head down this track? Maybe, but we need to find ways to connect cycling to the things that make us feel most human, like Coke does. Heck, like cigarettes even used to. It might work well enough to show how the alternatives (like driving, booo!) work to dehumanize us and then show how cycling can restore that, but we really need to show that cycling will make us whole again.

So, as I’m again out of time and I don’t want these to get too long anyway, I’ll use the weekend to think about how we can connect love, fulfillment, belonging, connection, and the other things that people long for, to cycling. Ideally, they can be real connections. I’m sure they can be, but if it would be effective to take a page out of Coke’s big book of marketing and simply fabricate these connections out of thin air, then we might as well. At least we’ll get more good out of it than cavities, obesity, and type 2 diabetes…


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