Imagine my shock as I peeled off my lycra and hung my bicycle up yesterday morning to scroll to this headline on Facebook. Key emotion? Rage.
Pinarello, an Italian bike company, recently launched their e-bike, the Nytro. Electric bicyles are becoming more and more popular, and Pinarello clearly wanted to get in on the market. They launched with this. 👇
The female version showed 24-year-old ‘Emma’ (titled “Couple rider”) saying: ‘I’ve always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible.’
The male version featured 55-year-old ‘Frank’ (titled “Weekend rider”) who has: ‘No time to work out during the week, but I would never miss a Sunday ride with my friends! Soon I’ll be able to fill the gap.’
As Lisa Bowman wrote for Metro.co.uk, “Right — so Frank is slow because he’s missed a few workouts, but Emma is slow because she’s…a woman?”
I don’t know whether to start with the “couple rider” vs “weekend rider”, implications about gendered norms and careers, or athletic ability. There’s a lot to dig into here.
But let’s be crystal clear about one thing.
This is wrong.
It’s not a women’s issue.
It’s not a cultural issue.
It’s a belief issue.
For starters, this belief is destructive. The belief, and message that equality is possible, but only with the assistance of an electric engine. It is a lie.
We tell stories to make sense of the world around us, and marketing (when done well) is a reflection of what a company believes.
These beliefs matter. Stories, when told often enough, are believed. They become a thread in our cultural tapestry. And this thread? It unravels a lot of good work. This thread, this story is that girls can’t keep up with their boyfriends. And if men can’t keep up with their friends, it’s because they’re working too hard. Aside from the fact that I know many women who can smoke their partners on a bike, let’s talk about some new stories about female athletes. For example, when Chrissie Wellington ran the fastest marathon split of the the entire field in the 2011 Spec-Savers Ironman in South Africa. Or the time when Mirinda Carfrae set a course record for the fastest marathon split ever recorded at Ironman World Champships in Kona in 2013. Women are serious athletes. Start treating them that way.
Let’s try some different stories. For starters: can we consider that Emma might like to ride bikes because she likes to ride, not because her boyfriend does? Maybe the reason Frank is slow is that he’s too lazy to make it out for a 6:00AM roll out during the week. What do you think?
How did we get here?
How, in 2017, in the hell are we still having conversations like this?
And before you tell me that this is a cultural issue, let’s not. They’ve got internet in Italy. Someone – and probably many people – signed off on these messages. They didn’t see anything wrong with it.
It’s a belief issue: a belief rooted in the history of the sport, perpetuated by the leadership of the companies that sell cycling products, and reinforced by advertisements like this by Pinarello and others like them.
Cycling has always been a male-dominated sport. 1 out of 4 cyclists on the road are women. That’s changing — but it’s an uphill battle. Women’s cycling struggles to get media coverage, equal prize money to men’s races, or coverage of athletes who aren’t blonde bombshells. We need more of the women who are on the road, reflected in advertising. If you can’t see it, it’s awfully hard to be it. Whether you care about that because you are a woman, love women, or you’re just in it for the cash — take your pick. There are myriad reasons to reflect real women in cycling. Young women are growing up watching men racing professionally — and while if you look hard, there are (thank goodness) amazing women changing this paradigm and acting as role models, there still aren’t enough out there. If we change this, we change the number of women on the road. Which in turn, changes the number of bikes companies sell to women. It’s not complicated. The days of the boys club are over, if you want to run a successful business in the 21st century.
It’s a leadership issue. Pinarello’s roots belie their beliefs. Pinarello’s roots as a company are intertwined with Giovanni Pinarello, a professional cyclist born in 1922 in Italy. Visit the company’s ‘our history’ page and you’ll see nothing but Pinarello and his son, Fausto. There’s not a single woman who doesn’t appear to be an adoring girlfriend posing next to a lycra clad cyclist in on the company’s page. You can see see how well that diversity is working out for them today.
Because roots like that? Lead to adverts like…👇
It’s systemic sexism. Cycling is a male-dominated sport, and the leadership of professional cycling teams, bicycle companies, and marketing positions within cycling apparel companies reflects that. Until a significant share of the market is held by cycling companies led by women, I don’t believe we’ll see a lot of meaningful change. Last year Specialized got into hot water for releasing a limited edition Playboy e-bike, complete with Playboy Bunnies to “sell” the bicycle. When companies are celebrated for headlines like“Assos: We’re now going to portray women the same way as we portray men: as athletes”, you know there’s systemic sexism in the industry.
This just in: Sexism is bad for business
Pinarello’s job is to sell products to consumers. That’s it. Sell. To consumers. Some of those consumers happen to have vaginas. This misses the mark in a big way. I am a woman who loves cycling with money to burn, and at this point, you couldn’t pay me to sport a piece of Pinarello gear. Lift your game Pinarello.
Sexism says “I know what women want,” instead of talking to them — or shock horror — putting a woman in charge of your marketing. What’s that old adage? The customer is always right? If Pinarello had spoken to consumers — I wonder what they would have heard? Oh wait — I am a woman. Here’s what I’d like to see. Show me the killer women crushing QOMs and “chicking” guys. Show me the woman winning hardcore mixed gender races across the Australian outback. No one — male or female — starts riding a bike with the aspiration to “keep up.” They do it because they love the feeling of the wind in their hair. They love the camraderie of the bunch. They love the burn of a Category 1 climb. Show me that. Sell me the enjoyment of being on two wheels. Isn’t that why we’re all on the road anyways?
Sexism is bad for business. Women have money. Your job is to convince them to spend it with you. To take a leaf out of Cindy Gallop’s book, “There is serious money to be made by taking women seriously.” And cycling, my friends, is an industry that does not take women seriously.
“There is a huge amount of money to be made by taking women seriously.” — Cindy Gallop
Where to from here?
Sorry doesn’t cut it
Pinarello have already taken the tried & tested PR apology route. An apology is not meaningful change. It’s the choreographed move that any corporate who’s stumbled into hot water would make. As Amanda Batty so eloquently writes:
If I were being paid by Pinarello, my next move would be easy: I’d tell them to play it off. I’d advise them to make a show of supporting female teams or even hire a couple of women (temporarily of course) and then next year when someone brings up this ad, say “Look at what Pinarello has done for women since our mistake!” That’s what I’d do. “Look at how much we love women on bikes”, while meanwhile not changing a single thing inside the company or actually supporting women in cycling or trying to get with the times or aid in progression of sport.
As Amanda pointed out, a move like this is not a marketing mistake. I work in branding. I have worked in advertising. This is not a mistake. Messages like this are symbolic of internal attitudes and beliefs, usually perpetuated within a company from the top down, and endemic throughout an organisation.
This is not a mistake.
So, no, Pinarello, I don’t accept your apology.
How do we create change?
Retailers? Stop selling Pinarellos. Cyclists who support equality? Don’t buy them. And call bullshit out when you see it. It’s the only way we’ll change things.
But the real way we solve this isn’t just by boycotting Pinarello. (feel free to use #pinarellno, for the record).
The way we solve this is by starting companies by women, for women. Who are committed to championing professional women’s teams. Who advocate for equal prize money for women. Who lead the way for the women coming up in the sport. Who don’t employ “shrink it and pink it” to their marketing strategy. Who found, lead, and champion companies who are by women, for women.
A few examples: Oiselle, founded by Sally Bergesen, leading the way in women’s running apparel. Machines for Freedom, founded by Jenn Hannon, “out of necessity and of the radical notion that women deserve clothing that functions the way they need it to and looks damn good.” Carbon wheel manufacturer Enve was saved from bankruptcy under the leadership of CEO Sarah Lehman. Outdoor Voices, founded by Tyler Haney, make clothing to inspire more people to be active on a daily basis. Rapha, whilst founded by Simon Mottram, champion multiple events focused on introducing women to riding, like their women’s 100 ride. Liv put on great events for women. Canyon, SRAM, and Rapha sponsor Canyon — SRAM racing, one of the best female cycling teams in the world.
The list goes on. But it’s not long enough.
Ladies (and supportive gentlemen), get on the start line. We’ve got business to take care of.