Why Do Companies Put Bikes in Their Ads
I've been collecting ads that use bicycles as a metaphor for peace of mind and fun. While TV shows and movies will often put a character on a bike only to have them crash horribly (because car companies finance them?), advertisers know bikes mean freedom for their target customers. These ads are neither for bikes nor apparel companies, but they do an incredible job selling the beautiful bike lifestyle. Better even than most bike brands seem to do!
Here a woman dressed in white walks her bike in an advertisement for tampons. While dressing in white is a notorious trope in ads for products meant to absorb menstrual blood, the white skirt is also beautifully demonstrating how one can take a casual and feminine approach to a bicycle ride. The overall effect is definitely one of freedom from domestic labor.
Wells Fargo used their login screen to advertise one of their credit card options. Because this ad shows a woman, somewhere in California, riding her bike with no hands down a dirt path at golden hour, I was taken aback by the thought that their ads targeting was so precise. This image speaks to something directly in my soul! Does a credit card give one the same sense of freedom as riding a bike? No, of course not! Millions of Americans are crippled by credit card debt. But car advertisements would have us believe that the automobile would be the ultimate expression of personal freedom. And yet, when banks want to show you how carefree you could be with their products, they chose a bike as their best shot at misdirection.
Two friends ride bikes together on a pedestrian bridge over a what looks like a parking lot. Even so, there are no cars to be seen in this urban landscape. Both people are smiling and neither is wearing a helmet while they ride next to each other. The whole theme is about taking a minute to catch up in a low stress way. It's a far cry from typical North American bike infrastructure. If a road does have a bike lane, it's never wide enough for two people to ride next to each other and have a conversation. Instead, you can barely talk to your friend as most of your attention is split between scanning parked cars on one side and dodging car drivers looking for parking spots (while failing to see you) on the other. It feels weird to declare, but I want to live in this Paypal ad.
When Airbnb Experiences wanted to convey a sense of romance and city travel for their Valentine's Day themed ad, they chose an image of a trio riding bikes across a cobbled plaza. All three are bareheaded and two of the women are holding hands in an advanced romantic bike maneuver. It's cheeky to imply a connection between bike-riding abilities and prowess as a lover. And I am here for it.
In this fashion-themed ad for PayPal Credit, two friends ride bikes along an esplanade. They are both young and stylishly dressed. The woman in the foreground is laughing at a hilarious joke her friend just made. The ad copy makes it clear that choosing to use this credit product is a smart choice. Just like how riding a bike for transportation is the smartest way to travel.
Oprah Winfrey, the success symbol herself, stands astride a mountain bike while wearing a cool shearling motorcycle best. Her hair is glorious and uncovered by a helmet. She is smiling in that open-mouthed, laughing way that models are great at. It's an ad for Weightwatchers' Reimagined. She looks happy, healthy, and completely at ease. What other way is there to feel completely at peace with your own body? By riding a bike, she gives the impression of how fun and shame-free it would be to subscribe to this fitness program.
Our scene is Amsterdam in the Fall: two young women laugh together as they walk their bikes through a bicycle parking lot. Both are wearing cute hats and have stylish accessories in their baskets. This ad for a PayPal credit card reminds me that people on bikes tend to spend more at local shops. This ad is all about power: purchasing power, the power of youth, the power of style, and of course, pedal power.
Saving the best for last. Free from the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, a young woman dressed like a 1950s movie star rides a bike along the water. Her urban style bike helmet rests on her rear rack and she's carrying a freaking rabbit in her wicker bike basket! As someone who loves vintage fashions, bicycles, and bunnies, I don't understand how this ad can speak directly to my soul, but it does. The whole scene is just too cute.
As Megan Ramey of Bikabout points out, it's astounding "that every industry but the bike industry knows how to sell bikes". What a fascinating contradiction. Clearly bicycle imagery is extremely powerful, I'm obsessed by how we can use that power to make our world better today and for future generations.
I love that you detected this trend and took the time to write about it! Your analysis feels so spot-on.