Creative ways to piggyback cycling from Flemish energy gel to Nike's Chalkbot

Creative ways to piggyback cycling from Flemish energy gel to Nike's Chalkbot

An April Fools campaign from the world of Flemish cycling?

Strap in folks, this starts niche.

I saw an April Fool’s (or was it?) last weekend that didn’t cause an involuntary eye-roll. Promoting Cycling in Flanders (did I warn you it was niche?) it was a cute bit of content claiming they’d launched a Stoofvlees (Flemish Beef Stew) energy gel.

I can’t even ride a bike very well, so the reason I saw it on social is a mystery.

The reason I like it so much is a long story involving a cycling-mad dad and trips to Mrs Deene’s Ghent guesthouse. She was infamous for supporting up-and-coming cyclists but also for being so, erm, cost-effective that she made their morning cups of tea with the water she’d used to boil their breakfast eggs.

Anyway, I digress.

There have been other brilliant bike-based campaigns.

The first that sprang to mind was Nike’s Chalkbot.

When Le Tour comes to town, there’s a cavalcade caravan before, during and after the riders pass through, and part of the spectacle is writing messages of support on the road. Nike gave people the chance to do it from afar, with what was claimed to be “the first use of robotics in advertising” (it was 2009, OK?). With a reported sales increase of 46%, it rightly bagged a Cyber Lion.

Chalkbot also reminds me of a gentler social media time, when tweets were used to join in (see also: 02 Santa, Auto Trader’s New Car Drop). Maybe this trend dropped off because Brits cannot resist the opportunity for some Boaty McBoatface/inappropriate image mischief? I think it might be time for this ‘joiny-in social’ to come back around, as a less controversial resurgence than ‘floating things down the Thames’’.

Thinking bigger though: The Tour de France itself began as a PR stunt for a newspaper. In 1903, ‘L’Auto’ was facing dwindling sales and started a six-stage race, just so it could cover it. Genius. It killed off its competition and the rest is history. The same goes for that other French institution, the Michelin Guide. A different, really bloody clever bit of thinking to get people to wear their tyres out.

Put all of these things together and they’re a lesson in community, creativity and the completely incredible ability of PR to come up with not just brilliant ideas but sometimes even brilliant-er businesses.

On Monday, I saw someone say April Fools’ are a waste of creativity, a point I 100% get but don’t 100% agree with. The thing I think we’d both agree on is the power of focusing creative energy on stuff (like the Tour and Michelin Guide) that doesn’t just ‘make’ but makes the world a little bit more interesting.

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