Marketing, cycling and women

It’s been one of those weeks, where suddenly I’m seeing all kinds of things about marketing, cycling and women, so here’s a selection of links to some things I found interesting.

Firstly, I am still in love with the adidas #mygirls campaign.  You can read my thoughts here, but more and more things keep hitting me about it – for example, isn’t how they show hair interesting?  Usually sports adverts have women with long, glossy hair cascading out behind the woman – and I have to say, that’s never how my (admittedly long, blonde) hair looked in any sports I did.  There’s the interesting cultural differences highlighted in Bara’ah in Jordan wearing her hijab, and Asisat in Nigeria with hers in plaits, that adds to the whole “united around the world” vibe, while feeling very natural – but Hannah‘s hair is tied back and hidden by a bike helmet, and Ingrid‘s is tied back and wet from the water – and I think that just accentuates the aspirational, real vibe – this is how we look when we do sports, and don’t we look great?


I’ve mentioned Collyn Ahart‘s writing on the blog before, but there are some articles she wrote that she linked to in her #mygirls post that I really liked.  Collyn does a lot of work on marketing and brand strategy, and I loved her post on sports marketing to women, the issues with the three main ways sports brands target women:

1. Take a page out of the lads’ mags and conventional fashion imagery to market to women through highly sexualized imagery which likely operates more as entertainment for male shoppers than as genuine marketing to women.

2. Market to women in exactly the same way as one markets to one’s male market, without considerations for different needs. This often includes the tactic of using recognizable professional athletes as models.

3. Showcase the “empowered woman” alone. Out on the road. In the gym. Up the mountain. In the ocean or lake or wherever she gets her feet wet. Always in isolation.

She explains why these are problematic, and just don’t work – and it’s like the adidas advert listened to all of this, because on of the most endearing features of #mygirls is the way is shows girls together, training with and competing against each other, and having an even better time because they’re doing it together.

Collyn also linked to her slideshow about sports marketing to women – have a look, it’s a great one:


I think Collyn speaks so much truth, but if you want evidence of what she’s talking about, check out Fat Cyclist’s post on the latest Assos ad.  He talks a lot about the text, but seriously, look at this photo!  It’s preposterous, on so many levels!  And then there’s this line:

ladyEllisse was created and designed as a tribute to our female customers and to please the eyes of the entire ASSOS community

I am gobsmacked that in 2013, a company admits so freely that they’re making jerseys for women that are really aimed at men!  I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised they do it, but to be stupid enough to admit it?  Craziness!


Using women to market to men is as old of the hills – and I really liked this blog post by Elly Blue on the fabulous Taking the Lane, setting out three simple rules on how to tell if adverts to/including women are sexist or not.  In honour of the Bechdel Test for movies, it’s called The Bike Test, and it’s very simple:

1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

She goes into a lot more detail (and as Vik pointed out, it’s very interesting she has to defend her inclusion of the male pin-ups site, because criticism of that = missing the point, in my eyes), and it’s a great set of rules.  It applies to a whole lot more than bikes, too – and I wish more advertisers would take something this simple on board.


I’m sure Dan would shake his head at me, and remind me I should never read the comments on any blogs except for this one, where you’re all clearly awesome and wonderful, but you have to laugh at the dude who said “I’m thinking that if more women were involved with cycling then there would be a decline in sexist ads.” – a) that sounds suspiciously like blaming women for sexism and b) of course it MUST be that way round, not that women are put off sports because they’re so often shown as sexist/sexual.  But, it gives me a nice segue into the blog where I found that article – Glitter Gravel on How to get more women into cycling – which fits in because it’s all about selling the sport of cycling to women.  It has advice for men, women, bike shops and anyone connected to cycling marketing.  There’s something there for everyone, and that takes me nicely back to the start, because there’s a lot in there about sharing the sport we love, getting more people to love it too – and the easiest way to do that is to show how much we love it.  That’s what shone out of the #mygirls advert for me – the passion and love for each of the sports.  And that’s the best way to sell something after all – show someone how much you love something, and if you do it right, that sells it for you.


19 thoughts on “Marketing, cycling and women

  1. To get more women cycling regularily, means they have to eventually stop thinking that they are on a bike and everyone is watching them because they are a woman cycling along, not breaking traffic rules, but minding her own business.

    Given that attitude, it affects clothing choice…which for me be visible to cars is more important and at night (along with lights), mismatched colours of clothing at times (but who really cares or remember??), rain/dirt flung onto you, visible helmet (not a black/dark helmet. Just ridiculous at night.), and a bike that suits one well with any favourite colour (it doesn’t have to be pink).

    For women who cycle well, is to have more patience for women who don’t do it well.

      • I just despair sometimes. On a cheerier note, I must have missed that Emma Pooley interview the first time round, so thank you! My inner geek is very happy that she was reading Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

    • Oh, and I made the mistake of looking at the Assos shop of women’s jerseys – pornstar faces, everywhere! And apparently the page of shorts was even worse, but I couldn’t bring myself to look….

  2. my cycle shoes are the most expensive i own. My triathlon kit together cost more than my wedding dress. I wear a lot of mens cycle clothes becuase womens are either expensive or very low quality (eg thin or no padding in shorts). There is a market here – give us something to buy!

  3. My cycle shoes are the most expensive I own. My triathlon competition kit cost more than my wedding dress. I mostly wear mens cycle clothes as those for women are either too expensive or too poor quality. There is a massive market there (especially post olympics, post Bradley Wiggins) give us something lovely to buy and wear that makes us feel great and look great!

  4. If more women were involved in cycling, there would be a decline in sexist ads? This person clearly doesn’t live where I do. When I walk the trails or ride, just under half the people I see on bikes are women.

    A lot of marketers clearly think like this, too. They think there aren’t “enough” of us to warrant better gear and saner marketing… And yet here we are. It’s a cop out.

    • I know! It’s the same here – so I don’t know why there’s this idea we don’t ride. Women are everywhere in Bristol – in the parks with kids, on the MTB trails, riding the cycle paths, commuting everyday, hitting the hills hard – and yet both of my local bike shops don’t stock female-cut jackets…. no wonder they suffer from online competition….

    • I think that one of the key problems is that most marketers (and arguably in the popular social consciousness) tend to think that “cyclists” are a homogenous group of people, rather than a collection of multiple sub-cultures that overlap (if I could draw a Venn diagram of it, I’d deliberately make it look like a bike wheel). This leads to an almost inevitable laziness in messaging and branding. Most generously it could be argued that it’s constrained by budgets, but truthfully any serious marketer could only accept that argument if they had no responsibility for measurable outcomes. In conclusion, thank you TNBP, I think I have my topic for my next round of Marketing and Bullshit. (Although maybe I should wait a week, Sarah’s marketed us all week).

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