This past weekend's Landmine Classic was the finale of the GT Golden Bike series, as I'm sure you've heard. The series has been widely ridiculed for rewarding sandbaggers with an ugly bike and cheerleaders. While this is an accurate summary of what it's all about, does that make it dumb?
My initial reaction was that this was totally stupid. How much does it cost to fly and accommodate four cheerleaders, a couple GT reps, and a golden bike winner and friend to six different events? How much does it cost to give every golden bike winner a bike?
Oh, and your USA-centric perspective probably assumed this promotion was limited to the States. It's not. So take the cost of the US series and (more than) double it for the international series.
Yeah. GT threw down a lot of money to do this. Pretty dumb, because "we" all know GT bikes are crappy and "we" buy Trek/Fisher/Specialized/Giant, whatever the shop gets us deals on, and some over-the-top series (did I mention cheerleaders? yeah. cheerleaders) ain't gonna change "our" opinion.
Here's the catch. "We" are not the target audience for this thing, and "we" probably don't know much about marketing. Back in the day, GT mountain bikes were the sheeeeeeit. Remember the "triple triangle design"? I still have a poster of Rishi Grewal rocking his. If you were buying a high-end mountain bike in the 90's, GT was a solid choice.
Somewhere along the line, that all changed. GT merged with Schwinn, went bankrupt, got acquired by Dorel Industries, and looked to be following Mongoose on the path to department-store-bike status. Could you even buy a proper GT mountain bike in 2005? I sure didn't see any.
But now, at the end of the decade, GT decided it wanted to make real bikes again. I don't know why, it might be because someone up high loves cycling or it might be because some suit ran the numbers and thinks it'll make Dorel's stock go up. It doesn't matter why, they're going for it.
So how would you get your brand's name back out there when it's been sullied by bankruptcy and cheap-bike production? Sponsor a pro team? Oh, that's creative. Because pro mountain biking is so big right now, all those sport riders (a.k.a. "your market") pay so much attention to it.
Like they care what Marko Lalonde rides.
The Golden Bike promotion is miles above sponsoring pro riders. Look at me, I'm writing a blog post about it. Look at James, he's writing a race preview about it. Sure, we think the bike is dumb, the cheerleaders are dumb, but we know about it.
12 months ago I didn't even know GT still made race bikes. Now I do. Sure, I get my bike through the shop, but you think that sentence doesn't hold true for every one else who showed up at Landmine, many of whom may actually by a bike at retail price in the next few years?
Just like the web, it's all about user impressions. There were 404 racers at Landmine, 489 at Ore To Shore, those a big number for mountain biking. Racers have families and friends, races lead to press releases (and we all read the web), that's a lot of people who are all aware now that GT makes race bikes AND does over-the-top promotions.
Plus, they did it in a down economy. Remember the dot-com boom, when every pile of venture capital was trying to make the most insane Super Bowl ad? Do you remember any of them, or did they all just blur together?
But in 2009, most companies are dialing back and being conservative with money, so GT's crazy promotion dollar goes a lot further, because there's no competition. GT dumped a ton of money on the mountain bike scene (don't forget the Dirt Coalition they started this year) while Specialized/Trek/Giant/Kona/etc were doing nothing.
Or were they doing nothing? I don't really know. They probably sponsored some dudes, some shop teams, whatever, same old same old. Nothing worth raising an eyebrow over -- nothing like this Golden Bike shit. And that's the point.
It's hard to put a price on brand recognition. Ok, so flying ~10 people all over the country six times is expensive, giving away bikes is expensive, buying print ads and online ads and building a website is expensive. But Dorel grossed 2.2 billion dollars in 2008, with a profit of $113 million dollars. With a balance sheet like that, you can probably find a couple hundred thousand bucks to run the biggest promotion in mountain biking history, right?
I'm not buying a GT bike anytime soon. I think cheerleaders at a bike race are the silliest thing I've ever seen. I think GT is crazy to throw away money on this. Crazy like a fox.