Bike shop’s ads go beyond the ordinary

This article is by contributor Carl Larson. Carl previously wrote about the Zoobomb art rack project.

One of the many clever, poignant,
and timely ads that River City Bicycles
has run in local weekly newspapers.

They are everything from powerful public service announcements, good-humored guilt trips, outraged cries, and cutting commentaries on our nation’s commuting culture.

They’re also advertisements.

“My philosophy on advertising is that if you have the means to get a message out, it had better be a meaningful message.” That was Dave Guettler’s response when I emailed him a few months back asking why Southeast Portland-based River City Bicycles had such incredible print advertising.

While many other retailers use their ad space to tell you all about the great deals and new products they offer, River City’s ads rarely mention products and never mention prices. Guettler explains that he’s played that game for previous employers but takes a different course for his own business.

“I get my best ideas as I ride my bike to the shop from Damascus [20 miles SE of Portland] every day. I also have an incredible artist I work with, Andrew Reed, who interprets some of my ideas into workable ads, along with coming up with a lot of his own ideas.”

With taglines, “Once a week, that’s all we ask,” many of their ads offer a gentle prod towards bike commuting while offering up vicious commentary on the health, environmental, lifestyle, and economic nightmare that is commuting to and from work in a car (At one point, River City Bicycles even sponsored traffic reports on a local radio station). For example:

And others simply remind us of the various joys of riding a bike:

See an entire gallery of their ads here.

But it’s their timeliest ads that always impress me most:

The powerful image above ran in the Portland Mercury immediately after Tracey Sparling was killed (and, sadly, another one ran soon afterwards for Brett Jarolimek). Most people probably didn’t realize it was paid “advertising.” There is no logo or mention of a company or product. The only contact information was a web address,

This prioritization of community spirit over logo placement, sums up what makes River City’s advertising so endearing.

Surely there is some worth to having
your ads lovingly cut out and tacked up like art.

Some retailers consider getting their name out and advertising bargains to be the purpose of their ad campaigns. For some that may be true, but perhaps they underestimate the value consumers place on ads like Guettler’s. Have you ever seen an ad for “LOW LOW PRICES” or a “SPRING INVENTORY BLOWOUT” tacked lovingly to a cubicle wall next to a love note and a dog portrait?

River City Bicycles has just put a collection of their “Commute by Bike” ads on their website. Check them out, it’s worth a visit.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I realize that River City advertises on this site, but that was hardly the inspiration for this article.]

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