Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Pinarello Ad Campaign Is The Pinnacle Of Bro Disruption Theory — Here's Why

If you pay attention to cycling news or social media accounts within the bike sphere, you've likely seen the Pinarello ad by now. If you haven't, here's the image they uploaded to their Instagram. Note the caption. "I've always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible."

In their teaser ad release, the copy also reference female inability to 'keep up with the men': "Nytro aims at a wide target, from the one that has no time to train but would never miss a weekend ride with friends, to women who would like to follow easily the men's pace, or even the ones who desire to experience cycling as a new way of life, climbing easily and going downhill safely, enjoying every single minute on the bike.”

While the language can be seen as a 'lost in translation' moment, the multi-pronged attempt to portray women as incapable of keeping pace is anything but a mistake. Advertising a bike specifically on the point of women keeping up isn't a copy issue -- it's an internal belief that women actually cannot hang. It's also a marker of a much, much darker goal.

But this isn't the first time manufacturer copy within cycling has spoken to female 'delicateness'. It likely won't be the last. So why do companies continue making the same 'mistakes'?

Is it a mistake at all?

Since the ad aired, Pinarello has received major press coverage in both the bike world and even in the mainstream; the story was number one on BBC's site. In marketing, 'brand awareness' is key for a company intending to break out of a niche. I know this because I do this. I have orchestrated specific moves for companies looking to create a publicity 'blast radius' or what is, essentially, a watershed moment for advertising impact.

As both a marketing dummy and a professional bike athlete with an explosive 'brand' of my own, I know this move intimately and more importantly, I know what Pinarello is going to do next. 

As of this morning, they've pulled the ad.

Then they released this statement: 

What I would advise them to do if they were paying me to run this nightmare of a junkshow is to now blame their blunder on two factors: 1, translation/cultural differences and 2, simply trying to reach a 'lady demographic' that is misunderstood. You see, Pinarello is going to be very careful to portray themselves as bumbling men who simply 'messed up'. They didn't. 

This was intentional.

You can see the intent in the timing of publication, the multi-platform 'mistakes' and the language of how they portray women as being unable to keep up but desperate to ride with our boyfriends. Not partners. Boyfriends. It's the classic and sexist trope of 'little woman whose life revolves around her man', but crafted for a bike sale. This is Pinarello not only saying that women cannot be as skilled as men but that our natural place (and the arena that women will approach cycling from) is as a partner of a man, desperate to keep him happy. This is Pinarello exerting their own view of what women 'should be' and what they see as 'normal'. This is not cultural. This isn't even a nationality reflection. 

This is in direct defiance of and opposition to the changes made within cycling over the last five years. Their message to women of what is their 'ideal' customer for the e-bike is a determined attempt to recreate the situation they want to see. If you control the message, you control the people. By creating and then releasing the copy they did, they made a very real effort to make messaging like this not only seem acceptable, but to reframe the conversation that we're having. 

This advertisement is a distraction.


Because if Pinarello can take the conversation back to the circular "this is sexist" arena, we're forced to continue debating a point we've made and a topic we've covered over and over and over again. This isn't old news, but it absolutely is an effort to shape the current rate of progress. If we're forced to talk about what is and isn't sexist (again!), we're not discussing progress. We're not trading ideas about equal pay for women, benefits for female teams and the UCI's failures when it comes to female athletes. If everyone in the industry is suddenly abuzz with a stupid ad from stupid jerks playing stupid, we're all suddenly re-walking the ground we've already covered... Many times over. See how that works? It's a diversion tactic and an effort to gain press by exploiting the vulnerable demographic that is women. 

This is the part that matters because when I release this essay, they're going to accuse me of reading too far into their advertising move. Pinarello and anyone else with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo is going to try to gaslight me and anyone who makes these points by saying "it was just a dumb mistake by men who don't understand women". 

It wasn't, but that's what they'll say because the bumbling dude stereotype allows them to play by that narrative. How can we be mad at a company THIS dumb? How could we possibly get upset about a campaign so blatantly stupid? 

Make no mistake: Pinarello (and other companies who pull these stunts) are fully aware of what they're doing, and it's part of what I'm going to call the 'cycling manipulation' from here on out. It's a pattern of toxic male behavior that leverages outrage to push free promotion. Do we honestly believe that a company owned by multi-billion-dollar entity LVMH makes these sorts of stupid mistakes?

They don't.

That's just what they want us to believe.

And it's costing us dearly. 

The insistence of Pinarello on running this campaign despite the current climate inside of cycling isn’t just 'tone deaf'— it’s intentionally ignoring the issues in order to promote and push an ideal that is long-antiquated. “Let’s stop worrying about all of that — this is how things SHOULD BE” and pushing their perfect “the world is what we say it is” narrative. And when they get called on it, they'll plead innocent and dumb. But just like undue influence on a jury when a lawyer introduces irrelevant 'evidence' or mentions proof that wasn't allowed into evidence and then recants when the judge orders the jury to disregard it, we cannot unsee things. That's not how the human brain works. When I implant an idea into your mind, push an image or a theory in front of you, your subconscious sees it, logs it and locks it away into a little library called 'unconscious bias'. Even if you tell yourself "forget that", it's still floating around in your grey matter. Everything we see influences us in conscious and unconscious ways. 


Why is this damaging? Why does this really matter? Is it really important? And why should we care about the way Pinarello portrays women? 

Here's why: two little things called 'explicit memory' and 'implicit memory'. In a gross oversimplification, we'll just say that one is conscious and the other is not. Feel free to go down the rabbit hole of google on that one, but what you need to know is that advertisers and marketers use these human functions to hack into viewers' brains. So do propagandists. Humans don't actually need to know they've seen something in order to use it against them, in fact. Viewers don't even need to be aware of what memory retrieval is being used in order to be effective and in this study, "this form of memory retrieval is automatic in nature and does not rely on consumers deliberately searching their memory for a previously viewed advertisement. Comparisons with explicit memory retrieval suggest that implicit memory is preserved even in conditions of delay and divided attention, whereas explicit memory is affected detrimentally by those conditions." Subliminal messaging works. 

It's often joked about, but it works. 

It's why propaganda is so effective. Propaganda targets even the tiniest human biases and then it exploits them.

How? Well, first you have to introduce an idea that appeals to a specific, pre-existing bias... You know, like 'women are less athletic/capable than men'. And then you build on it. 'THIS is why women are less athletic/capable than men'. And then you sell it as often, as seriously and as deeply as you can sink it. And the demographic you're trying to reach eats it up. 

Look around you. Look at the cycling world or hell, the world at large. Look at Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One conspiracy. People believe Hillary Clinton is evil. So what do political opponents do? They exploit that bias. 

Look at Lance Armstrong, another polarizing figure. Nobody is so-so on this topic or the man himself. But examine your own biases. Why do you feel the way you do? How did you come to those conclusions? What influenced your decisions? When did you make these judgements?

Back to Pinarello. 

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. "I've always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible." 

Do you see how they've framed this? As a message of hope for women? As a pseudo-supportive initiative that wants women to see themselves as 'equal' but that we need a motor (their motor) to do it? This is how the status quo is built and then maintained. It's careful, it's insidious and it's not even remotely 'accidental'.

The stories we tell matter. 

The incidental nuances of a 'whoopsie' can affect people and reset entire conversations. Wars can and have been won without a single bullet being fired or a missile being launched. Think about that. 

If the ways that we portray and see women, girls and femme individuals are inherently 'less than', we double down on the struggles that half the population is currently facing. We double down on the violence, the shaming, the life-altering and existence-ruining. If we allow companies like Pinarello to plead ignorance and play the 'bumbling dude' card, there is no accountability for the climate that we have created and allowed to fester. If we so willingly acquiesce to the intentional distractions and recover ground we've already covered so many times, we aren't talking about forward progress. 

The world is changing. Companies like Pinarello are dying. And if I have to personally remind everyone every day that Pinarello doesn't give a damn about women, I will. Retailers, stop selling Pinarello. People, stop buying Pinarello. Stop supporting companies who would not only harm women through their advertising, but who are okay with exploiting our imagery and co-opting the message of inferiority in order to sell a motherfucking bike.

Either get on the equality train or don't, but if you're laying on the tracks or trying to change the course of where we're headed, you're in for a violent awakening. This train isn't stopping, it's sure as hell isn't slowing, and we will not continue taking the time to reeducate intentionally ignorant bros who insist on having the same conversation over and over again in order to detract from the progress we're making.

We're done with this crap.

And we see you.

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