As Covid-19 has ravaged the world, much of the global advertising industry has been shell-shocked—except for bike brands.
Bicycle sales have seen a boom of sorts over the past few months as consumers looked for ways to exercise in a socially distant way or avoid public transportation in urban areas. And three bike brands—Trek, Specialized electric bikes (e-bikes) and Brompton—have launched campaigns to capitalize on the newfound growth and hopefully turn new consumers into lasting ones.
As of May 2020, according to market research group NPD Group, manufacturer sales of bikes to retailers in the U.S. saw a revenue increase of 103% and the number of bikes sold increase more than 49% year over year.
“There’s an opportunity for any of the major manufacturers to tap in,” said David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer of consultancy Siegel+Gale, “and then, from a branding standpoint, sustain momentum and get a competitive edge.”
Most bike brands’ parts are manufactured in and shipped from China, which experienced massive disruption due to the Trump administration’s tariffs that started in 2018 and increased in 2019. And since Covid-19 hit China hardest at the beginning of 2020, bike brands have faced shipping difficulties for most of the year.
Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer with factories in Taiwan, China and the Netherlands, has seen a boom for all models in the sports and recreation categories, including road, mountain and e-bikes, which are currently sold out, while waiting for new products to arrive.
The brand has done three times its usual sales in the past few months, said Reuben Hernandez, national retail services and marketing manager at Giant Bicycle. “We have done six months of business in three [months].”
Giant is focusing its marketing efforts on providing support for its retailers, which became more of a priority after bike shops were deemed essential businesses. The brand is offering financing programs, home delivery incentives and promotions to buy a bike online and pick it up at a shop. It’s also providing tips for consumers, such as enhancing their riding skills and preparing food for cycling.
“This is a new world order in America,” Hernandez said. “With so many people cycling, we believe a good number will remain in the activity and probably come to the cycling life.”
Looking for a new approach
Peter Yuskauskas, vp, marketing and retail at Brompton, which makes foldable bikes for easy transport and storage that are particularly useful in cramped city apartments and therefore popular in more urban settings, said the Covid-19 pandemic shifted consumers’ focus to things that matter to them, such as transportation. Now that people need to commute in a socially distant way while also looking for a way to safely exercise outside, biking is a more viable option for people who may never have considered it before.
Brompton launched its “Go the Social Distance” campaign in June to encourage more cycling during quarantine after Covid-19 was well underway in the U.S. “We’re encouraging people who can ride a bike to ride a bike, leaving space for those who can’t on public transit,” Yuskauskas said.
The campaign includes signage at the U.K. and U.S. stores Brompton owns and operates and out-of-home advertisements across the U.K. The campaign is also running across social media, where some of its posts received over 35,000 impressions, with more engagement in the U.K. than in the U.S. Yuskauskas said Brompton mainly targeted Los Angeles and New York, which have been affected differently at various points of the pandemic.
But despite the lower engagement in the U.S. due to an increased focus on Black Lives Matter and protests, Yuskauskas said the brand’s New York flagship store, ecommerce site and other retailers across the country saw record sales that increased week over week since the pandemic began.
People are visiting and sharing photos online, and “the message [of going the social distance] resonates with them, clearly, because it’s so prescient to the moment in history,” Yuskauskas said.
And as a smaller bike brand, Brompton is also tapping its community to help create content around the current moment. Seasoned cyclists can share tips, including what to wear, how to plan a bike ride and how to stay safe, with new cyclists. “In a way, it’s kind of beautiful because that allows us to draw upon the enthusiasm that we have within the community,” Yuskauskas said.
Meanwhile, Specialized adapted to the times by creating the “Essential Rides for Essential Workers” campaign in mid-March, providing bikes for essential workers who didn’t want to take public transportation. The brand partnered with bicycle advocacy groups in five major cities—New York; Washington; Buffalo, N.Y.; Boston; and San Francisco—to provide free Specialized bikes for those who applied.
“We ended up doing our own sort of crowdsourced campaign that was geared at our community of riders, nominating folks in their community who they thought would benefit from essential transportation during the pandemic,” said Ian Kenny, global marketing lead at Specialized Bicycle Components. “We ended up matching about 500 riders with bikes in the first few weeks of the pandemic.”
Bike shops in major cities that saw a dip in tourist traffic made similar efforts to donate bikes that would have otherwise been rented to essential workers, something Anna Maria Wolf, owner of Brooklyn-based Sun and Air, said her shop did.
Tapping into emotion
Trek had been planning its “Go by Bike” campaign since September 2019 in hopes of timing it to Earth Day 2020 to shine a spotlight on how biking is environmentally friendly and helps fight climate change. But Covid-19 delayed those plans as the company shifted its focus to ensuring store employees were operating under safe conditions. “We felt throwing another existential crisis [like climate change] at people, it just really feels like bad timing,” said Eric Bjorling, director of brand marketing and public relations at Trek Bicycle.
The initial plan for the campaign was to show recreational cyclists how they could easily use their bikes for transportation, especially for short trips and running errands. According to a recent survey from The League of American Bicyclists, 30% of all car trips are a mile or less, 40% are two miles or less and 50% are three miles or less. Trek’s campaign would have pointed to these types of trips and made the case for hopping on a bicycle instead, showing how a more bike-friendly lifestyle is good for people’s health and the environment.
“Go by Bike” is now a social media-heavy campaign that instead encourages people to share their biking photos and foster a sense of community among those who are discovering or reinforcing their love for cycling. There was also a direct-mail component sent to over 600,000 households and video content on Trek’s channels. May website traffic for Trek was up 156%.
“Originally, that language was [to] invite your friends to join you. Now that’s not necessarily as desirable,” Bjorling said. “So, now, it’s much more around joining your friends to sort of join this movement.”
Yusakuskas noted that bike brands will likely see more success when they tap into the emotional side of everything that’s going on now and leaning into that with messaging. “I think that’s the big win that we’ve had,” he said. “It’s the same media strategy that we had before, the same digital sales funnel that we had set up, the same targeting. It’s just the messaging is what shifted.”
Specialized is also currently running its “Learn to Ride Again” campaign, which channels the giddy feeling people get when riding a bike. The campaign was in the works before the pandemic, but its core aim of getting more people to ride still felt relevant so the brand moved forward with it. To make it more timely, the brand added information from the World Health Organization about the health benefits of cycling during this time.
“Part of what we’re really trying to do … is sort of tap into that emotion, that feeling that you get when you first learned to ride,” Kenny said, “and play off of the energy that we’re seeing out there in the real world.”
For people who are still looking to buy a bike this year, Wolf said, there is still hope, as long as they don’t have anything too specific in mind. “You can get bikes—there are used bikes. But when somebody comes in and is like, ‘I need a small bike in red for under $500,’ I’m just like, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, except that is a unicorn in the United States right now.'”