Thursday, February 10, 2011

Peddling Bicycles: Marketing by Illiteracy

Yesterday's post considered the new rhetorical style of "distributed marketing" currently on tap on the web - blowsy, rambling copy intended to sell a "lifesyle" to the Urban Hipster. The height of this bloviation concerns hand-built bicycles, many of which are made and doubtless sold in Portland to Portland's throngs of hipsters, millionaires, baristas and urban shepherds.

Shepherd Graffiti in Portland 

Buying one of these mobile works of art is, according to the Cycles Papillon copyist, like entering a new sexual relationship, one that really works, a union made in Heaven: "There is no better bicycle than one made specifically for you. One that fits your body but also one that fulfills your dreams and aspirations."  It's a physical and spiritual relationship that should be entered, if you'll permit that word here, with just as much care, circumspection and hope as a relationship with the Beloved (although more of that in a moment, just to keep the best cat in the bag.)

Buridan's Dilemma', Portland Style: Pick One

The Argonaut copyist begins by asking, "So why buy an Argonaut custom bicycle instead of one of the many other custom bicycles on the market?" A fair question; to which the natural rejoinder is, "A fair question.  I'll take the next year or so and rethink a purchase that right now seems ill-considered." But the purchase of an Argonaut puts you in the way of a good deal more than the average bike buyer ever bargained for. Read further into the site and you will quickly be wondering whether Argonaut's craftsmen are clandestine FBI agents or defrocked priests intent on dragging you into the nearest confessional:

Argonaut Bicycles, Portland ("questionnaire room")

"Every buyer starts out by filling out a comprehensive questionnaire intended [to] give me a general idea of what type of cyclist you are, and uncover any special needs or desires you might have. The questionnaire is then followed by a phone interview intended to open the lines of communication, and hash out the specific details of your bike [like one wheel or two?]. . . . [Then] I’ll work with you to find the best certified bicycle fitter in your area who will help me design a bike . . . . This process accompanied by painstaking attention to detail and world-class fabrication techniques guarantees that your Argonaut will be one of your most prized possessions."

A "comprehensive" questionnaire, a wearying and superfluous phone interview, a Savile Row fitting (probably equally lengthy and painful, certainly more expensive), a "collabo" design job, and you'll finish (provided age and decrepitude have not by then taken you to the bosom of your Maker) with "one of your most prized possessions," which clearly don't include either your sanity or your privacy. "Opening the lines of communication" sounds to me like a Beltway euphemism for wiretapping, which I understand is actually less painful (unless, of course, it's done by a certified bicycle fitter).

Certified Bicycle Fitting Room

Ira Ryan takes the "epic autobiographical" approach to marketing, one of the more tiresome forms of the genre. He tells a knockabout, Pirates-of-the-Caribbean tale ending in bloodshed, begging the conclusion that you should buy a bike from him. None of his self-importance seems to have any bearing on whether Ira is able to build a bike, but I guess it's possible to buy swashbuckling history in lieu of one.

"I have built over a hundred bicycles since I opened the doors of my workshop in 2005. They are all a result of a love affair with the bicycle as a tool for discovery. . . . I have been a cycle-tourist, raced . . . wrenched on week long tours and in dark basements, messengered in the rain . . .  caught in midwestern hail storms . . . . ridden carbon fiber race bikes, bad suspension mountain bikes . . .  rusty cruisers found in alleys in the snow. I have cut my hands on a sharp lug and shed blood for my craft."

"Dial-A-Pirate," Ira Ryan's frame order software

Stop Cycles' copy requires little comment, combining bad stream-of-consciousness (cf. Capote on Kerouac: "That's not writing, that's typing") with a recurrent icon of the Portlandic trust fund community, the passionate-yet-failed "art major". First, the obligatory profession of sincere artistic ineptitude compounded by staggering ineptitude for business:

"All art was created by our team of starving, out of work art majors who went to school to follow their passion but got left holding a big bill but have spades of talent. We traded them all a 6-pack of beer and some chicken wings for some art and we were pretty happy with what we got.

Then the inchoate artistic passion of a newly discovered (and of course "epic") artisanal calling:

"Mum’s the word when being spoken to and bleeding hearts wrapped in lace bring an elegant touch to this tube wrap style decal package.  

"Multiple color options and a peaceful groove ['groove' was one of Kerouac's default words] await this colorway option . . . . Little nuggets of peace."

(I have to ask, is "multiple color option" the same or not the same as "colorway option"? I mean, if I'm being offered multiple colors, wouldn't that just be a "color option" - well, "colorway option," then.)

Renovo brings high tech to the age-old art of woodcarving - their frames are made of exotic woods, often woods from Oregon (which would be the 'exotics' pine, spruce and fir, right?)

"Wood is tough stuff; from axe handles and baseball bats to the walnut stocks of the 1903 Springfield rifles. . . .These rifles were thrown from trucks, dragged through sand, rivers and hell, used as pry bars, clubs, crutches and still functioned as rifles." 

Here's a specimen, the Renovo TT bike, the dream alike of chainsaw artistes and carvers of small lidded rosewood boxes. Treat it like you would a rifle butt and sit on it:

 "If I break it can you weld it?"

Quixote Cycles  is our sweepstakes runner-up. Its copy incorporates in a scant two lines or so the Jungian grail "quest" twice, and manages to be both cringingly  pretentious and idiotic (it's not easy to stand out in this crowd, either):  

"It is my quest to change your preferred mode of personal transportation . . . . With this [bicycle?], you may sally forth on your own quest and together we shall change the world."

"Together we shall do this-or-that" always has such an apocalyptic ring to it. How about, "Together we shall warm the world"? With marketing outreach like this I'd prefer them to change my preferred mode of public transportation and leave my personal transport well out of it.

But the real winner in this carnival is Beloved, the love child of Chris King of expensive-water-bottle-cage fame. This site combines everything pretentious with everything illiterate, overheated, self-indulgent, gormless and fey. I feel constrained to quote at length (which, given the vocabular range of the typical web content person is fatiguing and just short of maddening, but not the eternity it seems).

The introit to the site simmers with a contained pentecostal fervor, invoking infinity by beginning sentences with infinitives: "To feel the wind in your hair. To feel the sun on your face. To find new love for the neighborhoods, the street corners, the passers-by. To re-inspire the well grooved commute. The freedom to find a new way. To wander. To work. To be among friends."

And then a Beethovenesque gerundive, in the key of the Ninth Symphony: "Let us chase the sun."

What follows is a yammering, drooling prose poem to each of three Beloved models, 'There and Back', 'No Haste' and 'Flamme Rouge'.

"There and Back is the sun on the horizon peaking slowly over the crisp morning. It is dew lapping your shoe from the road. It knows the destination fully to itself but not to you. It labels the road not in smoothness, pavement or pavé, but asks only for it to keep going. From brow to hand to hood, it tells a thousand stories of adventure along the way. Taking the road less traveled, and getting lost, then found.

"Taking time, oh sweet time is stenciled on the journal of No Haste. With haste comes wasted opportunities, and by all means one must take the time for experience. Whether wind, rain or baking heat tailor the theater of the day, all is digested and taken root as a promise kept. The journey, not the destination, is baked into the very being of No Haste.

"A monumental breed. A site of passion and madness, the Flamme Rouge is a small peloton of friends, a sprint to the county line. It gives you narrative and acceleration for the mind, body and soul. It has the ability to mix it up with the best using classic attitude. Rolling hills, steep descents, the Flamme Rouge burns on the manifest doctrine of steel is real."

I also label the road not in smoothness, not being given to labelling roads in general and particularly if there's actual traffic on them. I also know the destination fully by itself but not to you, unless of course I decide to let you in on where we're going.  I also have the ability to mix it up with the best using classic attitude, I'd just prefer to do it in someone else's kitchen. But when I have to "tailor the theater of the day," man, I get flummoxed. I'm willing just to stick with stencilling time on the journal of No Haste, although if a bicycle is keeping a journal, then for my money it can do its own stencilling.

No Haste (anymore)

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