17 November, 2015

Big Style

The ways in which we relate to things have changed: family, friends, identity, leisure time, home… All these words used to have a clear meaning. Now their semantic boundaries are debatable.

What used to be contradictory is now perfectly normal: we eat healthy food while we smoke; we dance reggaeton while wearing Rolling Stone tees; we do sports for introspection but we go out with our smartphones so that we can post our photos on Instagram or Strava afterwards. And there are no exceptions. We criticize posturing, but that's a posture itself.

This introduction could seem to be a little out of place in a cycling magazine. But our trade and passion aren't alien to the more general cultural milieu.

All this is reflected in sport. Purity is rare to find and we easily put up with the lack of it. Hybridization – of sports or cultures – is both alluring and fun. There's a growing number of 'neo-sportspeople': men and women who take up different sports in different moments of their lives – or several sports at once. Practicing sports is now hybrid and discontinuous. Today, reality is quite far away from the cycling stereotypes we used to entertain. Those specimens who mount their bike in a cycling school and then continue being pure cyclists for life are scarce.

Racing cycling continues to be a showcase where aspirations are reflected, but the number of those who enjoy cycling without wanting to climb a mythical mountain pass or ride along a downhill trail with loads of roots is on the rise. They live along with the growing number of extreme sport enthusiasts and those who have a family and a 9-to-5 job and choose to face the challenge of an Ironman. It's the so-called 'Superman phenomenon'.

Cycling, not impervious to style trends, is getting filled with a variety of meanings from users. Sunday morning is the new Saturday night. Fashion has hit the road. Cycling doesn't just feed on cycling alone: It feeds on all the trends and lifestyles around it.

Is this good or bad? Either answer to this question would be preposterous, for this is just a fact. It'd be wiser to think about the roles brands should play in this scenario.

There's no denying that brands are after differentiation and business, but we should also read the present as a time in which we can be social and cultural actors. This same role was played by religion in the past. Today, more people go out for a sporting event than for Mass on Sunday morning. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We now have a lot to say and do about the ways in which people build their identity and their relationships.

If the challenge is to be part of people's everyday lives, then intrusive ads and commercials should give way to brand journalism or the production of branded contents. Perhaps, if we want to help build a cycling culture, we should be thinking about short films rather than commercials, about feature articles rather than adverts. We must offer our target audience more than the mere intention to sell.

Also, we're entering a new scenario in connection with ambassadors and sponsored athletes. If we want cycling to stand on a par with other sports, we must understand that the tasks performed by riders should go well beyond pedaling. 'Being the best brand ambassador' isn't just about winning races. Ambassadors must be involved in the production of contents and/or in product development. Also, in the age of digital media, they must be communication channels too. In fact, professional success and bright future prospects have a lot to do with building a personal brand and growing both sideways and lengthways throughout your career.

In the scenario described above, the one achievement for a brand should be authenticity.

A brand can't be born in a vacuum. There has to be something, a seed, some coherence from within the organization. Brands have to be flexible today, ready to adapt to the world around them. But we must try to win over users beyond the short-term seduction based on price and looks. It's the only way of being a trendsetter, the only way to mean something to our users and workers alike.

When the wood is good, you don't need any veneer to enhance it. Likewise, brands are great when they can be associated to passion rather than mere technique. Style has to stem from substance rather than form. A fine style guide can be used to hide an empty wardrobe – or one filled with things we don't want to show. Having a good background with robust contents is the only way of exploring and hybridizing styles. We need to be elastic to go through these shifting times.

Sometimes, in this undying effervescence, the temptation of opportunism is hard to resist. We lose the thread of our identity. We want to be the greatest, the largest, the best, and we mistake big size for grandeur. Maybe we could aim at learning that even if we can't change the world, we can at least change our personal universe.

According to Nietzsche, style is born when victory defeats size. So, there we are. Let's do it.