Free Marketing Idea of the Week

Bank BikesOne of my favourite aspects of travel is getting exposed to and inspired by new ideas. I’ve obviously got a professional interest in marketing, but inspiration can come from art, architecture, interior design (see, for example, my recent post on a Budapest bathroom) pop culture and so forth.

One way to stay fresh as a marketer would be to visit a new nation four times a year. You could try to schedule some meetings with local marketing professionals, and absorb as much of the country’s commercial culture as possible. I guarantee you’d come back with a dozen good ideas that could apply to your local market (assuming you didn’t, you know, just go from Canada to the US, or the UK to Ireland).

Here’s one example I spotted in Vienna. In some European cities (I’ve seen them in Denmark, Germany and Austria), there are community bicycle programs. A city or neighbourhood has a supply of communally-owned bikes, and people use them in an ad hoc fashion to get from place to place. The bikes are usually painted in a specific, bright colour to make them easily recognizable, and discourage theft. It’s a wonderful, simple, egalitarian idea.

I think this was attempted on a small scale in Vancouver, but I don’t remember the outcome.

I spotted some bikes like this in Vienna, painted bright yellow. These, however, prominently featured the logo of an Austria bank (that’s their logo, from an ad in a subway station). As far as I can gather, they sponsored the purchase and maintenance of these bikes in exchange for putting their logos on them. Great idea, eh?

Obviously this would only work in a bike-friendly city, but I could see the likes of VanCity or Telus launching a similar program in Vancouver. For bonus marks, they could start a training program for at-risk youth, teaching them to maintain the bikes. They could also secretly conceal little GPS devices in the frames, permitting them to track the bike’s location. This not only would enable them to recover stolen or hoarded bikes, but also might make for a cool companion website showing the routes of the bikes.

In terms of potential returns in cheap advertising, PR and goodwill, I’ll bet it would be well worth the investment.


  1. This post reminded me of the sky-blue umbrellas that were so-called courtesy umbrellas during the month that celebrated Granville Street’s anniversary. I wonder whenever I now see someone with that umbrella if they simply never returned it or if they had legitimately procured the umbrella for personal use.

  2. it’s weird, the way we feel about brands… i was totally into this idea until i heard the word TELUS. then, suddenly, the idea seemed repugnant. go figure.

  3. great idea Darren…in fact, Vancity will be dipping our toes in this area shortly…keep an eye on for details as they develop

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