Transportation Nation

Bicycles become trendy marketing tool

Andrea Bernstein Jun 9, 2011
Transportation Nation

Bicycles become trendy marketing tool

Andrea Bernstein Jun 9, 2011

Tess Vigeland: New bike lanes in many U.S. cities have boosted the popularity of wheels and spokes as a way to get around town. And now that trend is working its way into advertising. Some retailers that usually sell sofas, shoes or purses are now adding a new item to their lines: bikes.

From the Transportation Nation project at WNYC, Andrea Bernstein has the story.

Andrea Bernstein: In the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, bikes are popping up everywhere. Not just on the green bike lanes that run through the area, but in the window displays. This season, bikes have shown up shown up in shoe stores, dress shops, in front of fancy hotels. And you can even buy a bike at CB2, the chic younger sibling of Crate and Barrel. The large showroom has stylish outdoor furniture, bright orange sofas, red bamboo plates. And there are two solid gray bikes with big yellow tires and bright red leather seats.

Marty Shultz: They certainly jump out at you with the yellow tires.

Marty Shultz is retired. He came here to buy kitchen stools, and says he isn’t in the market for a bike. But he likes what he sees.

Shultz: It sort of gives me an impression I’m going to see a lot of modern stuff as I walk through here.

Marta Calle, brand director of CB2, says she’s always looking for big current trends.

Marta Calle: We live in Chicago and on our drive in — because we do drive in — on our drive in we have noticed our commute is getting longer and longer because the amount of people biking in the city is incredible.

To promote greener and healthier transportation, mayors in pretty much every large city have installed thousands of miles of bike lanes in recent years. And all those cities have seen a surge in bike commuting. For CB2’s Marta Calle, the clincher was seeing tons of cyclists at a design conference — in Milan, Italy.

Calle: And we thought what a cool trend. It speaks to our customer because our customer is young at heart.

You can spot in recent issues of almost any fashion magazine: long-legged model posing with bikes as a props. And a number of non-bike retailers are selling bikes this season: Club Monaco, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Then there’s the high-end purse and fashion company, Kate Spade.

Kyle Andrew is a senior VP.

Kyle Andrew: I think there’s something in the air, people are definitely more interested in bike riding than ever before.

Kate Spade’s flagship store in Lower Manhattan with a bike decorating the window.

Outside Kate Spade’s flagship store in Lower Manhattan, Andrew points to a window displaying wedding items. There are some sleek white purses, elegant white dresses — and a white bike. Dangling on the handlebars is a bright pink sign that says: Just Married. It’s all directed at what Andrew refers to the “Kate Spade Girl.”

Andrew: Even if she’s wearing a beautiful Kate Spade dress and high-heeled shoes, she’s still going to get on her bike and go across town because she loves adventure and loves exploring and that’s just her spirit.

Bikes have come to connote coolness, urbanity, and romance, according to Sheron Davis. She’s a senior executive at the advertising firm BBDO. Even, she says, in places were bike lanes have faced criticism, everyone still loves bikes.

Sheron Davis: Sometimes it’s a metaphor, sometimes it can be an archetype.

Davis says advertisers are trying to transfer the halo effect of biking to their own products. But she says all that marketing can also end up promoting biking, not just shoes or sofas.

Davis: It becomes part of a bigger story of one’s life.

Except that next year, the retailers we spoke with said they’ll be off bikes, and on to the next big thing.

From New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

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