Remember the kerfuffle over the “Citi Bike,” or Citibank’s sponsorship of the New York City-wide bike share system? Ever wonder why this was an issue in the first place? After all, this was just about a corporate logo on bikes… right? Yes, it was… and as bicycling is becoming more and more popular in urban centers, on college campuses, and in other settings, marketers are looking at bikes themselves as a compelling “platform” for sharing ideas and brands.
The bike fleet is one way of doing this: West Coast tech companies with large campuses – think Google and Apple – have made bikes available to employees for moving between buildings (and generating perceptions as “green” companies). Others have incorporated bikes into other marketing activities: Virgin Mobile in Australia, for instance, hosted a massive bike treasure hunt across the country, with online clues leading to “hidden” bicycles.
No doubt, there’s a lot of profit potential in the “bike as marketing platform” business, and Australia’s Papillionaire is working to get its share of this niche. A woman-led company, Papillionaire’s always been a bit unconventional: they focus on making simple Dutch-style bikes that look great and which have lots of options for customization. No, they’re not aiming their product lines at bike shop gearheads, but those of us who’d love to use a bicycle for part of our transportation mix, but who also have no idea what to do with all of those gears.
The corporate fleet business is a natural for Papillionaire – not everyone at any given company is going to be a bike expert, so simple works in this market. Their products worked for the Virgin Mobile event mentioned above, as well as for other diverse clients ranging from Country Rd (an Australian clothing retailer which used them as part of a caravan display that traveled the country) to Aussie gardening chain Yates, to the council of the town of Yarra in Melbourne. Simplicity allows for a lot of flexibility in this approach to branding.
Between sales to individuals and organizations, the company’s done well and gone international: it’s first US store opened in Brooklyn (imagine that!) last Fall. At least part of their success comes from flipping the normal gender gap in the industry: about 80% of their buyers have been women. Take what you will from those facts, but, clearly, here’s a company attracting buyers that may have well been scared away from the more traditional approach to selling bikes… and doing so, at least partly, by demonstrating the marketing power of those same bikes.
The bike as messenger and message – not a stretch in a world where less and less young people are getting driver’s licenses. If you know Papillionaire bikes, or just have thoughts about bikes as a marketing tool, share them…
Images courtesy of Papillionaire
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