Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Contre-La-Mantra: Streamlining Your Sales Pitch

The bicycle is a simple machine, and the significance of incremental improvements that are made to them every year is both debatable and relative. Sure, infinitesimal improvements in aerodynamics may, in theory, gain one seconds or fractions of seconds in competitive events, but in the end what matters is how much this supposed gain is worth to you. If you're a professional athlete this gain might be worth millions; if you're everybody else, it's probably worth nothing.

However, some people are willing to pay for the perception that their bike is the best, and since they can't actually prove this is true themselves because they're not capable of riding fast enough to make those incremental improvements count, they instead rely on the bike's manufacturer to create marketing campaigns that prove it for them. As such, these marketing campaigns must be effective and reliable; really, they've got to be even more effective and reliable than the bicycles themselves. In practice, it's far more important to create a "bulletproof" marketing campaign than it is to create a bulletproof bike.

Recently, a reader forwarded me a pair of new videos from the Canadian bicycle company Guru. Every so often, you see a genuine advancement in bicycle technology, such as clipless pedals, integrated shifting, and, in the world of offroad riding, the "gravity bong." Well, I'm not sure Guru have advanced bicycle technology any further, though these videos show they've certainly taken bicycle marketing in a bold and revolutionary new direction. This one is for the Crono 2.0 tri bike:

While clipless pedals changed cycling in many ways, the mechanics behind them were not new, since they'd already been employed for quite some time in the form of ski bindings. The big leap was applying them to bicycle pedals. Similarly, the "self-congratulatory windbags sitting around a dinner table" format is nothing new either, since Jon Favreau has employed it for years with the TV show "Dinner For Five:"

What Guru have managed to accomplish though is: 1) adapt the format to bicycle marketing; and 2) completely strip it of interesting people and entertaining conversations. This is quite daring. A talk show set in a restaurant makes sense, since entertainers often work in such environments and share ideas over food and drink. Therefore, watching them interact in such a setting feels natural and informal. However, when Guru depicts their principals at a dinner table drinking wine and talking about how wonderful they are, it gives the impression that: 1) the act of bicycle design is less like engineering and more like wedding planning; and 2) that when you buy a Guru, you're not jut paying for top-notch technology and materials. You're also paying for lavish meals and the filming of those lavish meals.

Don't get me wrong--when it came to filming the meal Guru held nothing back, and I'm convinced that this meal and the conversation that took place during it were both state-of-the-art. Here's one incredible moment where the filmmakers actually illustrate the aerodynamic properties of the BS emanating from the designer's mouth:

Note how streamlined it is, and how it passes to the listener virtually unimpeded.

I also learned something, which is that the "character" of a bicycle is apparently in the headtube. This surprised me, since I had previously thought a bicycle was defined by the "beefiness" of its bottom bracket. I suppose ideally you want both of those things, and that the perfect bicycle has both a beefy bottom bracket and a charismatic headtube. Also, at four minutes and 29 seconds one of the owners utters the phrase, "The pregnant word would be 'symbiosis:'"

As somebody who enjoys the written word (as opposed to the puffed word, which I'm not all that crazy about), I've come across a few wonderfully mellifluous phrases over the years. Just a few of these include: "All You Haters Suck My Balls;" "Don't Put Anything In My Flower Box;" and of course my all-time favorite, "Your money's no good here at Chili's--that second order of fajitas is on the house." So I like to think I know a catchy phrase when I hear one, and to me "The pregnant word would be 'symbiosis'" is as delightful as any ever penned by Shakespeare or stuck to a deep section rim with adhesive vinyl letters. Surely, it's as succulent as any dish that was served to them at that restaurant--which, if you're unfamiliar with Canadian cuisine, is the world's fanciest Tim Hortons. Speaking of class, nothing says "class" like a thumb ring, as you can see from this still in which the wearer mimes the act of helping a pregnant symbiosis deliver a healthy Guru:

I have a recurring nightmare in which I'm fixing a flat on a cold and rainy night and an Acura TSX comes to a stop beside me. As I turn to it a tinted window rolls down and the sound of techno music grows louder. I can't see the driver, but a hand with a thumb ring extends from the blackness and beckons me. Then, a Canadian accent says, "Why don't you come in here where it's warm, eh?" I awake in terror. I don't know what it means, but I'm pretty sure this guy is the figure from my dreams.

You wouldn't think Guru could possibly produce a second video to rival this one, but amazingly they do. Moreover, it's even more brazen, and they start off by explaining that light frames are just marketing tools--so, naturally, they've just made the world's lightest frame:

Then, the guy in the blazer exuberantly describes how they can talk to the people who made the bike, as though Guru somehow invented the idea of a company actually making what it sells:

In fairness to Guru, though, a bike company that actually manufactures what it designs is increasingly rare. In fact, it's so rare that companies like Guru can now use it as a selling point, just like riding a track bike on an actual track is so rare that velodrome races must now be specified as "fixed only." Certainly, though, Guru are justified in touting their process since doing things in-house probably does afford them a lot more control, whereas sending designs off to some factory requires trusting matters to a bunch of disembodied hands. Speaking of disembodied hands and aerodynamic bicycles, I love a good disembodied hand (and I'm not talking about "stranger" administration), so I was pleased when a reader sent me this eBay listing:

The best disembodied hands are the ones that come from on high, because they suggest divine intervention:

But as much as I delight in eBay listings and makeshift bike support techniques, it's not always enough to cleanse my palate after both a literal and figurative meal of road and tri bike marketing as seen in the Guru videos. After sitting around a table for a long time sipping wine, picking at tiny servings of expensive food, and listening to people hold forth and sermonize, sometimes all you want to do is sit on the couch with a pizza and a beer and watch reruns of "Three's Company." Here's the marketing equivalent of that dining scenario (which I saw on Busted Carbon, which is sort of the bike porn equivalent of S&M), and while I'm not sure how scientific it is, it's certainly lacking in pretense:

While Guru clearly put a great deal of thought into their staged dinner conversation, the people at Niner obviously made a spur-of-the-moment decision one Wednesday afternoon to grab a camera and pound the crap out of a fork with a hammer. I'm disappointed that after pounding it he didn't also demonstrate how to use the fork as a bong, though chances are that's what they were doing when they conceptualized the video. Incidentally, while he says he's going to "clear up a few myths about carbon fiber," by my count he only cleared up two: that you can't hit it with a hammer, and that you can't use it to get stoned.


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