I’m always proud to say that I work in the advertising industry however I’m sure that some will empathise with the varied responses I get when asked what I do for a living. Some are positive and often people take pleasure in recounting their favourite ad from Guinness, Nike or Dove as if expecting me to tell them I know the guy who held the boom mic on the shoot. Others are more skeptical about the industry and naturally revert to the lazy stereotypes immortalized by Mad Men or the critiques of Naomi Klein. Very occasionally I’m treated to the sneering wit of a Vice reader, presumably blissfully unaware that the title they hold so dear is a fantastically integrated advertising machine.
Recently however I got chatting to a guy, who as a tractor driving, sheep-herding real life farmer clearly had a far more chat-worthy job than I. He however, didn’t seem to think so and professed to his fascination with brands and advertising. He began by recounting a recent trip to Waitrose, his first visit to a supermarket in 10 years, and provided a great anecdote about how those responsible for the branding were clearly far more talented than those growing the fruit and veg.
He went on to describe advertising in a way that struck me as quite profound. Advertising, as he saw it, mostly required transforming the mundane into the extraordinary, a task that requires great craft and imagination. I could have probably listened to this guy all night however the dream died and we went our separate ways, leaving me with only a memory of this noble tractor driver and his enthusiasm for the ad game.
His final observation stayed with me and a couple of campaigns recently got me thinking about those words again. I can’t think of many campaigns that support this friendly farmers viewpoint more than Weiden’s Lurpak Kitchen Odyssey. The campaign began a few years back and does a fantastic job of fetishizing the use of butter in the most mundane of cooking chores by borrowing cues from action and sci-fi movie trailers.
The next campaigns to jog my memory were two very similar UK cycling retailer ads, one for Wiggle and the other for Evans. Both come from a very similar position in that they celebrate all that is different, odd and irrational about cycling. As a cyclist myself I can validate the insights behind the campaigns wholeheartedly…on a rainy ride halfway up a hill at nine in the morning any enjoyment derived will seem irrational to most. Both campaigns remind the cycling community of this and in doing so normalize the idea that cycling perhaps isn’t that normal.
While the sense of recognition and belonging derived by community insiders is driving these campaigns, for an industry whose popularity has historically suffered periods of massive decline after periods of growth this may not necessarily be the best strategy. Rather than positioning cycling as an extraordinary pastime for the few, sustainable growth may be better achieved by normalizing cycling as a pastime for not only ‘the odd ones’ but for as many people as possible.
For cycling’s rise in popularity to stabilize and consolidate in the UK cycling needs to transform from the extraordinary into the mundane. I hope the farmer would agree.