Gravel - Cycle Oregon

A bike company has finally made an ad that competes with the auto industry

Posted by on May 2nd, 2016 at 10:55 am

The star of the ad leaves his car in the driveway.
(Screengrab from Stromer)

Biking in America suffers from a major image problem. Bike riders are rarely seen as cool, conquering heros in movies or advertisements the way auto users are. While we do our activism and political lobbying here and there, it has very limited impact when our entire culture is consumed by media that makes automobiles look like sexy, must-have products.

Many car commercials are fake, mean-spirited, and promote dangerous driving; but with billions of dollars to spend, the auto industry knows how to win the hearts and minds of Americans. The bike industry? Not so much. More often than not bike advertisements focus too much on racing or too much on the corny stuff bike advocates love but that non-believers (an important marketing target) can’t relate to or simply don’t care about. Granted, the marketing budget of the entire bike industry is probably equal to what Ford spends on office coffee for a week. But still.

Then I saw a new ad for Stromer bikes over the weekend….

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What really caught my eye was how the Stromer marketing folks blatantly copied one of the most persuasive car commercials running today: the Matthew McConaughey/Lincoln MKC spots (directed by non other than Portland resident Gus Van Sant). Notice how the music, the look, the feel, even several scenes of the Stromer ad above mimic the Lincoln ad below. Notice the droning piano, the handsome, confident, and wealthy star getting ready for work, the reach for the key (that he passes over for his phone), and so on…

Stromer is doing exactly what Lincoln (and other carmakers) are doing: Selling the bike — not as a health and fitness tool or a way to “be green” — but as a device that makes you look cool and just so happens to get you from A-to-B in luxurious style. And by device, I mean an electronic gadget like a smartphone. In the face of an age where people are more and more consumed by their devices, the auto industry has smartly begun to position cars as high-tech nodes with all the bells, whistles, and comforts of an iPhone. And now Stromer is doing the same in this ad for their premium ST2 model.

It should be noted that Stromer is an e-bike company. This ad makes me wonder how the high-tech aspect of e-bikes is a major marketing asset that will make them more influential with mainstream (non-bike believing) audiences.

And did you notice how, in another jab to automakers, Stromer’s tagline is “The Swiss driving experience.” That echoes BMW’s “The ultimate driving experience.” Not only that, but by using the verb “driving” instead of “riding” Stromer is challenging people’s perception of cycling in a fundamental way. It reminded me of the legendary Miller beer ad by Errol Morris (that I also called the “best commercial ever made” when it debuted in 2007).

It’s not perfect, but this Stromer commercial could be a game-changer. If only they had a few million dollars to plaster it all over the airwaves during prime-time sporting events.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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55 Comments
  • Mike Sanders May 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Great stuff. When I watch YouTube on my iPad, I now have to sit thru commercials. Quite often, they’re car ads. I don’t own a car, so I don’t like that much. These guys have hit a home run. My suggestion: when the cyclist turns off the main street, he might follow an off-road trail instead of a side street. I agree. These ads should run during the Tour de France this year. That would get noticed!

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley May 2, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Wow. I wonder if there will be a Stromer to try out at the eBike Expo. It looks fabulous.

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  • Riley May 2, 2016 at 11:16 am

    As the article points out, automobile advertising painstakingly avoids the realities of automobile ownership and operation in favor of rather juvenile fantasies. In fact even real cars are getting in the way of those fantasies — observe the increasing use of computer generated simulations of cars…

    One can but wonder what our world would look like if bicycling, and perhaps even public transportation, were to switch advertising budgets with the automakers for, say, five or so years…

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  • Paul H. May 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Version 2.0 could include the cyclist riding freely in a bike lane, passing all the cars stuck in traffic.

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    • JeffS May 2, 2016 at 11:26 am

      and getting right-hooked at the first intersection. I prefer the current version.

      Actually, I can’t imagine who this is selling to. The multi-million house-in-the-hills crowd just isn’t that big.

      If success is turning bikes into the status symbols that houses, cars, watches and offices are, I’m rooting for failure.

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      • Dave May 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

        You’re wrong to hope for that failure; we want the ruling class on bikes. We want the people who buy and sell elections and politicians riding on the road and learning what it’s like–it ain’t democratic but those are the folks who will pull the levers to improve cycling and walking conditions if they have the right experiences.

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      • Eric Leifsdad May 2, 2016 at 11:59 am

        It’s not making “bikes” into status symbols. The lincoln commercial tries to make that specific car into a status symbol, just like the house in the hills. I think selling a specific bike as status symbol raises the rusty schwinn to even or above an old hyundai.

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        • was carless May 5, 2016 at 9:53 pm

          That rusty schwinn is a thousand times better investment than any car – and will outlast virtually every car on the road, ever.

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      • gutterbunnybikes May 2, 2016 at 1:35 pm

        That strategy worked pretty good with Tesla Motors.

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      • Granpa May 2, 2016 at 4:37 pm

        Hate on those rich and wish failure on those that sell to them. Sort of a negative attitude.

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    • q`Tzal May 2, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      That is a vision that appeals to our teeny tiny demographic of stridently anti-car/pro-bicycle people that alread own a bicycle and are not as likely to buy an electric bike.

      This commercial pointedly is showing wide expanses of road with sparce non threatening traffic. This commercial is selling to the real market of people that are afraid of traffic.

      We are not their target audience and that is wise: we are too small of a market, too invested in our existing hardware, too comprised of fitness-heads that see any human power assist as a war crime and overall too set in our ways.

      E-bike marketing comes to the bicycle community to DIE: we have a pretty good track record of eviserating any e-bike, good or bad.

      The bike rider that doesn’t commute yet, isn’t part of the vitrolic anti-car community and is on the edge of giving up car driving: this is the vastly larger audience this advert is targeting.

      It is not us.

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      • John Lascurettes May 4, 2016 at 8:53 am

        Heh, difference is this commercial even shows anyone else on the road. Look at car commercials, the lion’s share of them show a completely open road for putting the pedal to the metal with the ever-present fine print: “professional driver on a closed course”. Car commercials sell a fantasy that you’ll never be stuck in traffic with that car. This commercial is at least that much closer to reality by showing him navigating traffic.

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        • q`Tzal May 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm

          Granted, however if the principal of Chekhov’s Gun has taught us anything it is that even the amount of cars shown in this commercial was very specifically chosen.

          Once we acknowledge that target audience is not current bicycle commuters, nor anti-car people, nor vehicular cyclists, we can get down to the task showcasing the product in a backdrop that id realistic and yet not scary.

          I’d bet good money that they A-B tested several different vehicle densities to hit the precise psychological mark of believable and desirable.

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  • Eric Leifsdad May 2, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Needs to show more stopped traffic. Lots of scenes where he’s keeping up with traffic, but mostly empty streets. Not sure if the smartphone nonsense is enticing. Stopping for a sit-down coffee, getting the girl’s number, and still beating the traffic to work, maybe.

    He turns right from the center lane (nearly in front of a car) at 1:15 — get your right-hook on?

    Why is he wearing a helmet? Where’s the rack? At least it has fenders.

    Props for selling it as transportation. It’s probably hard to imagine e-bikes as status quo, but more so for consumers than ad agencies?

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    • Paul Wilkins May 2, 2016 at 11:38 am

      The helmet debate has been settled here. Those of us who use helmets do so smugly and healthily. Everyone is free to do as they choose.

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      • Eric Leifsdad May 2, 2016 at 12:05 pm

        The drivers aren’t wearing helmets. I agree you should have the choice, but a commercial should not be expected to portray helmet use. Perhaps it’s because this commercial chose to portray the thrill of speed, rather than simplicity, ease, and joy. I might be the only one seeing hints of helmet-induced invincibility syndrome in his riding.

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        • John Lascurettes May 4, 2016 at 8:57 am

          It’s probably a more pragmatic choice on the advertiser — it opens up the commercial to all markets, including those where helmets are compulsory (cough the Couve cough). I doubt you could find a motorcycle commercial with a helmet-less rider despite the fact that there’s are states still that don’t require it.

          Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as universal helmet laws. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).

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    • soren May 2, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      Needs to show more stopped traffic.

      Since it’s shot in CA there is absolutely no need for the e-bike rider to stop due to jammed up ICE vehicles.

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    • Jack G. May 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Re: Helmet.

      In many places (including Oregon) helmets are required when riding ebikes.

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      • Eric Leifsdad May 2, 2016 at 2:31 pm

        Not in Oregon. Where did you get that idea?

        Has anybody noticed what our under-16 helmet laws did to ridership?

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        • Mao May 3, 2016 at 5:19 pm

          How often is this actually enforced? I know my elementary school would not let you leave without a helmet, but in Middle and High School no one cared.
          It’s like jaywalking. You’re only getting called out if you’re being reckless or a cop with nothing better to do is bored and feels like giving out a warning. (A ticket is too much effort)

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    • Dave May 3, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Like a River City Bicycles commercial of a few years ago.

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  • B. Carfree May 2, 2016 at 11:34 am

    The actor is a little goofy looking and has a strange smile that is most definitely not cool looking. Then they missed by having the woman look approvingly at the bike instead of at him (or even at his rear end). I’m sure they’ll get better at emulating the horrid car commercials with time, but they haven’t quite gotten it yet.

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) May 3, 2016 at 11:34 am

      I was disappointed by the sexist bit- “own a bike so the girls like you”. Demeaning to ladies.

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      • Mao May 3, 2016 at 5:22 pm

        “Buy this thing and girls will like you”, It’s a classic scheme. This one item will find you the love of your life, make you rich, and bring your childhood pet back from the farm. That’s just basic ad work, selling people the magic cure to save their world.

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      • was carless May 5, 2016 at 9:57 pm

        Tell that to my wife – it certainly worked on her!

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  • 9watts May 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I don’t know. I get the inversion that you’re enjoying, but the fact of the matter is we’re still stuck in the world of wealth, status, consumer desire, expensive gadgets. And he already has a car that he can afford to pass over….

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  • Tyler Texas May 2, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Nice ad. Nice bike too (not cheap).

    I don’t watch TV much so I don’t see car ads. I used to watch more TV years ago.

    I’ve owned several bikes and cars over the years. I did not base the decision to purchase any of them based on a commercial. I suspect the vast majority of car or bike owners do not base the decision to buy one on a commercial – for most, I suspect commercials have no impact of any kind on their buying decisions. When we are driving we get to see what the car manufacturer’s are offering on the road in real life. That’s the advertising that sells cars. The bike commercial would, I suspect, cause some wealthier folks to run down and spend 4K to 10K on a Stromer bike – then it would probably sit in the garage and collect dust. So, wait until they’ve been on sale for 5 or 6 years and watch craigslist, ebay, etc for a cheap Stromer with low miles that’s been owned by a little old lady who kept it in the garage. 😉

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  • Al Dimond May 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Those Lincoln ads have never worked for me on any level. They make me question or even laugh at the protagonist, not idealize him. And, proving that it’s not just because I’m a bike guy, this Stromer ad makes me feel the same.

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  • Champs May 2, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Ironically, he works at Hyundai Motor Finance, so you’ll find him when you give up and lease one.

    By passing up on that BMW i3, this gentleman is what they call a “choice” commuter. Pretty safe bet he also has a Vespa, which does the same things at the same price, except it seats two with a lot more flair.

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  • gutterbunnybikes May 2, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    “but as a device that makes you look cool and just so happens to get you from A-to-B in luxurious style. And by device, I mean an electronic gadget like a smartphone.”

    I recall hearing a radio interview recently with an auto manufacturer rep. during one of the big auto shows (likely the Detroit one) and he said that that integration with the cell phone and mobile computing is “the most” important features that buyers are currently looking for. And then went on to loosely describe how they are planning on innovating the tech and the dashboard to implement such features.

    Generally, I think the bicycle industry is a little clueless about where the future growth of the industry is which isn’t racing but commuting. Which unfortunately trickles down to the riders as well. On the whole, the ads and articles are still very race specific – even when discussing commuting or utilitarian cycling. Some of the smaller manufacturers and news places “get it”, but the big boys in both industries are still very entwined with the bicycle racing culture. Interestingly enough, the fashion industry appears to have a clearer vision in this changing tide of bicycle use than the US bicycle industry does.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 3, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      The bike racing companies managed to convince Americans that they need to ride a bike with dropped handlebars and wear silly clothing just to ride to work or store. This is unfortunate.

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  • BikeRound May 2, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    I would strongly urge Bikeportland.com to adopt an editorial policy against using words like bullshit in its blog postings. The problem is not that we are not adults and that our moral universe is going to collapse upon seeing such words. The problem is that the articles quickly deteriorate into vacuous emotionalism when the author is not forced to select the appropriate adjective to describe the situation at hand. Curse words engage the emotional sides of our brains, which is not a good thing when the setting of good public policy requires unemotional data gathering and processing. Please do not follow Dailykos.com into the ever more frequent use of curse words and inevitable attendant decline in the quality of its articles.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 2, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      yes I agree. I thought that word worked in the context of this story but you make good points. I’ve edited that paragraph. Thanks.

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      • BikeRound May 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm

        I applaud this change. I am generally very impressed with the high quality of the articles on this site.

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  • Beth H May 2, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Happy to see bicycle advertising that’s selling the cool.
    BUT…
    Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I think anything can be made to look cooler as long as the model selling it is youngish, white, male, slender and good looking. It also doesn’t hurt if he’s well-off (note he’s passing over the key to BMW on the way to grabbing his smartphone, and he rides out of a hilltop house with a stunning view of Puget Sound).
    Yeah, yeah, I know, average Americans don’t want to see themselves in an ad because they want to dream about being something else, something Not Average. Because average is not good. Because we’ve been taught to think that way.
    I will stand up and cheer when an ad features someone who’s female, middle-aged, with a bit of a belly, gray hair, wrinkles and a buncha ear piercings. In short, someone who looks a lot less like mister supermodel and who looks a whole lot more like me. Because I am quite happy with my average, thanks.

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    • John Lascurettes May 4, 2016 at 9:09 am

      Not Puget Sound. That’s smoggy downtown LA, blurry CA plates, not WA, and probably Olive Ave (one readable street sign, “Olive”) in Long Beach, CA. He also crosses over one of the overpasses that resembles the ones that cross the LA River. But everything else you say is dead on.

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      • Beth H May 4, 2016 at 9:50 am

        Looking at all the hilly downtown streets, I just assumed it was Seattle. Thanks for the correction.

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  • Bill May 3, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Assist speeds up to 28 MPH… Not on this side of the pond… 🙁

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    • John Lascurettes May 4, 2016 at 9:11 am

      Is that a national regulation or state? I know it’s 20 MPH max assist in Portland, but didn’t know if that was a national regulation or not.

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  • Portland's Electric Bicycle Shop
    Portland's Electric Bicycle Shop May 3, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Friends at New Wheel in SF have a great eBike Video as well!

    https://youtu.be/DUBvQ0NaJiQ

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  • Patrick May 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    E-bikes are motorcycles. Much like the Segway is for lazy walkers, the e-motorcycle is for lazy cyclists.

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    • Dan A May 3, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Depends on where you ride. I like my climb through Washington Park, but there are two sections with a 10%+ grade, which is too much for many people. An e-bike can flatten out the hills.

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    • Portland electric bicycle
      Portland electric bicycle May 3, 2016 at 8:13 pm

      And blogs are places where ignorant folks go to feel better about themselves by pontificating about what they do not know.

      From An ebike rider with MS, who is restraining himself from going ballistic on your arrogant ass.

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    • Eric Leifsdad May 3, 2016 at 11:09 pm

      Show me a motorcycle with 1hp per 250lb.

      Those “lazy cyclists” are called “drivers” in places with hills. On totally flat ground, lazy walkers just pedal a bike.

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    • Beth H May 4, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Carbon fiber and lycra do far less to make bicycling accessible to more folks than e-bikes do. While we still have to fine-tune legislation around them, as long as we keep the maximum speeds under control I believe they’re still bicycles.

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    • Jil May 4, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Motorcycles use gas and do not require one to pedal to move forward. My commute on my Swiss e-bike is over 25 miles round trip. I can assure you that I was far more lazy when I was driving my BMW to work.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 3, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    Nice commercial but why does that bike have to be so sporty?

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    • Eric Leifsdad May 4, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Because some markets may have helmet laws.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu May 4, 2016 at 10:19 pm

      Maybe more people are likely to pay many thousands of dollars for a bike that looks sporty than for a bike that looks like an old beater with plastic buckets bolted to a dented rack.

      Anyway, “sporty” is relative. I think that bike looks like an upright city bike, only sporty compared to a Dutch bike or similar.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu May 4, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    That is a well done advertisement. It helps that the bike is dripping with electronic gadgetry. Otherwise it’d just be a guy riding around.

    I don’t think you need a big marketing budget to create such an ad. I’ve seen equally evocative videos for Kickstarter campaigns. Some even shot on iPhones.

    Getting such an ad on TV is what takes the big marketing budget. But YouTube, FB, etc have as much reach as TV.

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