Tour de France: arrives in the UK this weekend
Tour de France: arrives in the UK this weekend
A view from Ian Humphris

Cycling is ripe for a brand champion - when is someone going to lead the pack?

As the Tour de France rolls into Britain, why has no brand yet seized the opportunity to ride the rising popularity of cycling, asks Ian Humphris, joint managing director at LIFE.

The bunting will be out and the road markings will have a fresh lick of paint this weekend as the UK plays host to the Tour de France.

It’s not the first time that the race, sometimes referred to as the greatest free sporting event on earth, has been to these shores, but this time it coincides with a new level of enthusiasm for all things bike.

The Tour successes of Sir Bradley Wiggins and then Chris Froome in the last two years have built on the growing exploits of UK cyclists at London 2012 and of Team Sky. Cycling is enjoying an unparalleled boom. Witness the number of weekend cyclists taking to the highways and byways of Britain often expensively attired and riding bikes that cost more than my first car.

Cycling is now big business and a mass participation sport. The numbers who have taken to the streets of British cities for the family friend Sky Rides are huge – 146,000 in 2012 with even more taking part in smaller events around the country. At every level, from elite through to kids cycling to school, numbers are up.

Huge opportunity

All of this creates a huge opportunity for brands, but it is one that has been sadly missed by FMCG brands in particular. No brand can really be said to have ‘owned’ the sport in the same way that Flora owned running, or Kellogg’s helped Britons get the swimming bug.

Generations of kids knew that John Barnes was powered by Lucozade Sport and Ian Botham wouldn’t step to the crease without his three Shredded Wheat. Tim Henman needed his beaker of Robinson’s in between games, but where is the equivalent link for cycling superstars like Wiggo or Mark Cavendish?

Cycling brands have made great use of characters such as Victoria Pendleton whose branded bikes have helped Halfords appeal to women, while Chris Boardman’s machines have been taken up by a the new generation of MAMILs. Evans cycling runs family cycling events. Sir Chris Hoy had his moment in the sun with Shredded Wheat.

No brand can really be said to have ‘owned’ cycling in the same way that Flora owned running, or Kellogg’s helped Britons get the swimming bug.

But no one brand has yet put its stamp on cycling which seems a massive missed opportunity. It isn’t just for blokes and it doesn’t have to be over competitive to be enjoyable. Cycling has great family appeal – a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone. Anybody who has seen tribes of happy, smiley, middle class groups out for a weekend or evening ride will be amazed that marketers haven’t made more of the opportunity. The obvious links with health and fitness, outdoors, nature, refreshment and sustenance could be great tools for a brand message.

Schools are looking to build the numbers of children cycling to class with initiatives such as Sustrans’ Big Pedal, which signed up 1,525 schools this year. Where was the big brand link that could have put a rocket on those figures?

With food brands everywhere under attack for salt, sugar and fat levels, you would think that at least one would have turned to cycling to convey a message about providing positive energy. In France, there are many FMCG sponsors who form part of the Tour’s cavalcade, but in the UK they don’t seem to have caught on the fact that there is more to sport than football.

A week from now the Tour bunting will be down and it may be some time before it returns to these shores. However the passion for cycling is unlikely to go away quickly and the opportunity is out there for a big brand to grab it and make something of it. Who is going to try and lead the pack?