Monday, September 21, 2015

Sexist Selling Strategies?

About a week ago, I posted about an old advertisement for Lambert Bicycles from 1973 which featured the following photo:

A reader pointed out the irony of my waxing nostalgic about the ad with its sexy model on the same day that much of the bicycling blogosphere was foaming at the mouth over some free socks that were given out in the swag bags at this year's Interbike trade show. Quickly dubbed "Sockgate," (why do ALL scandals since Watergate have to end in "gate"? Can't somebody get creative?) the giveaway socks renewed accusations of sexism in the bicycle industry -- even as they claim to be trying to appeal more to women cyclists. To be honest, until the reader mentioned it, I hadn't yet heard about the sock scandal.

I found the above photo on the Surly Bikes Blog, where Christina Julian, or Jules, makes a strong case against the "Sex Sells" strategy, and even includes some awful examples of the kinds of sexual harassment that she's experienced by some in the industry. It's worth a read. (photo originally from
Needless to say, it got me wondering if appreciating a 40 year old advertisement puts me in the same league as the doofuses who thought those socks would be appreciated by all attendees at Interbike. I will mention that even though I like the old Lambert ad (and lots of other old ads like it), I wouldn't be caught dead in those ridiculous socks -- even if they were free. Still - it's something to think about.

Of course, women have been used in bicycle ads (the word "used" suddenly seems more significant) almost from the beginning. Who can forget this old poster, and the many, many more like it from the turn of the century?

And the images of women appear in all kinds of bicycle ads throughout the century -- and in a lot of favorites from the Bike Boom of the '70s, including the Lambert ad shown above, or this similar Crescent ad from about the same time:

But now the question I ask is, is it the same? Or is there a difference? Is appreciating images in these vintage ads from earlier eras, when things were different, the same as giving out those tacky socks?

Sex is obviously still used in bicycle ads today, but somehow to me it feels different than in those older ads. More crass. And there's a sense that maybe people should know better by now. As a great example of this, do a quick search for Stradali Bicycles, and find tons of images like this one below:

She isn't going anywhere in those shoes. . . or facing the wrong way. Doesn't matter though --
the bike doesn't have pedals anyhow. They get worse -- some of the images would probably
qualify as NSFW (Not Safe For Work).

And to show that a giant like Specialized is not "immune," there's this one from last year.
Hell, this one doesn't even make much sense.
Even though I like some of the old vintage ads, the newer ads shown here seem worse to me somehow -- and more pointless.

I'm not a woman. But I am a man who tries to be sensitive to the way women think and feel. So, back to my question. Are those tacky socks, or those Stradali ads, et. al. in the same league as the old vintage ads I call attention to so often? Or are they different? I don't really know how many women read The Retrogrouch, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to alienate any of them. Getting some comments from readers on the topic would worthwhile. Any thoughts?


  1. The old Gladiator ad is art. Perhaps not fine art, but art nonetheless.

    Perhaps the same can't be said about the Lambert and Crescent ads. But at least they're more tasteful than the Stradali or Specialized ads. Also, in having women astride the Lambert and Crescent cycles, in settings that are more or less natural, there is at least the implication that they would or could ride them. There is absolutely no sense that the women in the Stradali or Specialized ads would ever ride those bikes, or any others.

    The socks are just awful.

    For what it's worth: I am a female reader who's been on the other side, so to speak.

    1. I have a huge copy of the Gladiator poster framed on my living room wall, as well as some other vintage posters from the same era. No, I wouldn't hang giant posters of the Lambert or Crescent ads on my walls - except maybe in my "bike shop" area. The Stradali ads are embarrassing, as is the Specialized one with the nurse. I don't imagine that future generations will view them with the fondness for which I view a lot of Bike Boom era advertising.

  2. The Cycles Gladiator lady lives on as a wine label!

    1. Yes it does -- I've had the wine. It's not bad, and fairly inexpensive.

  3. I read all the popular bike blogs, so I'm defiinitely aware of the recent stink. I think the socks were a poor decision on somebody's part, and don't care for them. I am not in the "industry", nor am I a woman, so I can't speak about women feeling excluded. I hope that is a trend that declines.

    As for your pictures:The way I see it, the older pictures are "sexy" women, wereas the last two pictures are just selling "sex". Small difference I suppose, and to some maybe no difference. At any rate, I like the old ads that you post, I find them to be an interesting slice of bike history. And, as un-PC as it may be to say it, I like looking at women. So if the ads have pretty women on them, that's fine by me.


  4. Hot girl with non-cylcist's legs and with high heels posing near the bicycle looks utterly wrong. It even isn't sexy.

  5. The socks were in a gift bag distributed as part of Interbike, purporting to address and represent the cycling industry, and the sock decoration is purely about anonymous thong-framed butts. You write fun posts for old geezers and likeminded others, and your comments about the ads are always in a historical context and tongue-in-cheek and acknowledge how times have changed in the interim. No comparison. Meanwhile, the Stradalli and Specialized ads give pause. The Stradalli is tacky Italian-wannabe, and the Specialized is a kind of soft-porn homage, and together with the socks suggest a larger issue in the industry that needs to be addressed.

  6. Editorque: I agree. It's sadly ironic that just as more women are becoming interested in cycling, the industry is resorting to the very sorts of sales tactics that turn us into female accessories for the bike.

    As a transsexual, I am doubly offended by such things.

  7. ... So when is someone going to point out the alcoholics?

  8. Bring it! Let's admire those women!