Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cycling and Advertising...There Actually Is A Connection!

With Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France this year, cycling returned to the American consciousness once again. And with that increased visibility, I again fielded more questions about pro cycling, how it works, the intricacies of team tactics, and more. And it dawned me as I explained a cycling concept to a friend how many parallels exist between an ad agency and a pro cycling team.

First off, they're both filled with dopers!

OK, that's not true, as cycling now tests relentlessly and, in spite of some the ads I see that leave me asking, "What were they on?", performance enhancing drugs don't really enhance advertising creativity.

Seriously, the Tour de France in its' broadest sense is all about advertising. The race was introduced in 1903 to sell more of the sponsor's newspapers and the iconic yellow leader's jersey was tinted to match the color of said newspaper. Today, the Tour de France sells official sponsorship opportunities for almost everything, a caravan precedes each day's stage with a rolling Mardi Gras of advertisers handing out promotional items and samples to spectators along the way, and each team has a corporate sponsor who wants to use pro cycling and its' vast (and mostly European) audience to promote their goods or services. Just like a Nascar vehicle, the rider's uniforms themselves are emblazoned with sponsor's logos designed to be seen as often as possible, including the primary sponsor's name across the back of a rider's butt, so it will appear prominently when I rider is shown from behind. In fact, so conscious are cyclists of getting the sponsor's name out, you'll often see a rider who's broken away from the pack for a stage win, sit up on his bike ato zip up and straighten his jersey, allowing the sponsor's name to be clearly legible in video and photos as he crosses the finish line.

On a smaller scale, each team is built like an ad agency. The team sponsor is the client and each rider is assigned a specific role to help the team win the race or even an individual stage and garner the most publicity and goodwill for the sponsor. Just as there are copywriters, designers, photographers, producers, and account execs at an agency, a cycling team is composed of time trial specialists, mountain climbers, sprinters, and domestiques, whose job is to support the riders on their team who excel in all those areas with the ability win the race overall.

So, given the parallels between a cycling team and an advertising effort, my challenge to you is this: Just as a pro cycling team would never count on a mountain climber to help win a time trial stage, do you have an IT expert designing your ads? Is a Sales Manager writing your ad copy? Getting an advertising message over the top of the mountain and winning the race requires the combined efforts of a team of specialists. Who's filling the important support roles on your team?

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