Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Specialized's 'Special' Form Of Empowerment


It's been a bit since Specialized's epic faux pas at the German bike show took place, and in the ensuing social media outrage, there has been lots said about sexism, objectification, blame and a reluctant 'apology'.

As someone who has publicly and vocally backed Specialized's rebranding of their feelings towards women and their support of female athletes (because they haven't always been so informed about combining women and bikes...), this recent nonsense was particularly painful to watch. I gleefully bragged about their new women-specific softgoods line and spoke candidly to media outlets about Specialized's efforts to both bring more women into biking and to re-introduce themselves to current industry members who have been searching for a company who gives a damn. Speciliazed's sponsorship of some really kickass female riders and their products presented at Interbike and Sea Otter last year gave me a lot of hope: the level of technology finally being marketed within 'womens products' was almost on par with the offerings for men. I suppose that's why I'm disappointed to be writing writing this... I chose to openly support a company who would stoop this low.

If it had been a different brand making an extremely blase apology and playing the scapegoat game, it may have been a bit more digestible. But as the company whose industry chatter awareness prompted them to sue a small-time bike shop over the use of a French town name that Spesh doesn't own, the whole "We were unaware of this collaboration" falsehood falls on deaf ears. An excuse offered up by Specialized that's remarkably similar to the one released by Maxxis a few short months ago is both below their standard of bullshit and unimpressive in its laziness. When I wrote about the Maxxis problem, I was frustrated and disheartened at the issue, especially after finding the Maxxis babe Facebook page up and running. The problem here is that the two apologies are so similar in their insincerity that they could have been written by the same damage-control PR firm. I've written more than a few of them for companies around the globe, and I know that blueprint a little too well... Which is probably why it chaps my ass.

"Specialized stands strong with female riders and we do not support the objectification of women in any way, in any region."... was released after they were reminded that the internet existed, where they seemed to be proud and excited beforehand: "When the opportunity to a product collaboration with Playboy showed we were immediately hooked! Two premium brands – a joint project. The Turbo S Edition combines Playboy lifestyle, innovative technology and pure joy of cycling. We are proud of the 40 unique bikes.

Two quotes, both from Specialized. From a consumer standpoint, only one statement is inconsistent with their branding from the past and it's not the sexist, objectifying one that doesn't fit. One might chalk this up to growing pains from a company rapidly trying to change their MO. But for a company so hell-bent on suing everyone under the sun, getting their branding and internal culture in line would seem to be the more exigent concern.

My estimation is that Specialized probably weighed out the pros and cons of both not releasing the bike versus releasing it and including an apology, and they went with the latter. Why? Because, as some brilliant idiot at Specialized assumed, "biology + capitalism = sales". Unfortunately for this person, they were wrong. Studies have shown that sex doesn't sell. Many, many, many studies. 

What selling sex does accomplish, however, is that it allows the folks in marketing to go home at 5pm and stop thinking about how to market a shitty product with very little appeal. Which is why people use sex to sell stuff no one wants... Companies can't come up with a better reason for their market to buy said pointless, non-demand items. They use sex to sell because they're lazy motherfuckers* with no big-picture thought patterns, no understanding of sport sustainability and zero respect for the gender they're so apathetically objectifying and dehumanizing. Marketing departments use sex to sell stuff because they have little respect for themselves and absolutely no respect for their audience; there is no art, no creativity, no meaningful engagement. And why should there be? When so much of their non-buying audience stands up and defends such useless marketing across social media and impugns the people questioning it, that means that specialized (and Maxxis and 661 and Colnago and Sidi) don't have to. These companies have mindless consumer drones doing the PR for them.

The biggest irony here? Specialized partnered with a company who recently announced their decision to do away with naked women on their magazine and website. Not as an end to stop objectifying women, of course, but because sex only sells when it's free. It's quite simple, though: due to the proliferation of online porn and free amateur web sites, no one wants to pay for sexual stimulation. So why, in the age of such cheap (aka, free) thrills, would Specialize choose to associate their brand with a rapidly-deteriorating skin mag? It can't possibly be that they're planning on a widely-selling bike. Specialized only produced a limited-run of 40 collaboration bikes to be sold in Germany, which they've now discontinued and won't be selling at all. So what was it that inspired the outrageous PR stunt that Spesh corporate claims they didn't know about (which is increasingly difficult to believe seeing as how someone in their Euro department managed to get their hands on 40 bikes to paint, market and sell, as well as what I'm assuming was signing a contract with Playboy to use their logo as well.)? It can't possibly be that they expect people who aren't even paying for a skin magazine to buy bikes associated with said skin magazine, can it?

I don't think we'll ever get the long and short of it, to be frank, but the entire premise of their corporate innocence requires more suspension of belief than a Quentin Tarantino movie, less artfully. It's also downright insulting for Specialized to expect the entire cycling industry to buy into such a transparent and lazy lie. Then again, a company okay enough to market this garbage in the face of such convincingly opposing research is one to be very, very wary of as they obviously expect to get away with the bare minimum.

* This one is for all of the tone police who came out of the woodwork to scold me for my use of the word 'motherfucker' in my Instagram post about 661's knee pads.

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