Brand Boris bicycles to Olympic glory

On Saturday I witnessed one of those magnificent moments that seem so typically British. I found a spot on the route for the Olympic men’s road race close to the finish at the bottom of Hyde Park. As the tail end Charlies were coming around the corner in dribs and drabs there was a sudden massive cheer from the crowd and two chancers came round the corner on Boris bikes. It was very funny and the crowd laughed and cheered the two cheeky monkeys.

What then struck me was the comments around me along the lines of “those lads on Boris bikes” which begs the question of branding. For those readers not familiar with London a scheme was introduced where bicycles can be hired from docking stations all over central London. The bicyles are branded Barclays, after the sponsoring bank.

However the scheme was introduced by mayor of London, Boris Johnson (pictured left with Arnold Schwarzenegger), universally referred to as Boris. So Barclays has forked out millions to ‘own’ the scheme but nobody refers to them as Barclays bikes; they are well and truly Boris bikes.

Obviously Barclays has its brand name everywhere, which is no bad thing, but it does not enjoy the word of mouth mentions. In reality Boris enjoys the kudos (I’m not sure who exactly initiated this scheme) and not the brand forking out the dosh.

Boris was blessed by his parents with such a memorable name it has given him the kind of brand handle most advertisers would die for. Nike, Orange, Virgin, Boris. Perhaps when he retires as mayor he could create a business branded Boris for a range of products that fit his eccentric personality?

The Olympics are great for London and the UK and the amount of work that has been completed all over the city is very impressive. However the only challenge for residents is getting around due to the Olympic road restrictions. I came to the conclusion last week that the only way forwards was by bike after being stuck in various traffic snarl-ups. Since then Boris bikes have been my sole form of transport and very enjoyable it has been too, because everywhere is accessible. Cycling down Park Lane without any traffic has been a joy.

Whether the Boris bike idea was very smart forward planning or a coincidence is irrelevant now but without them life would be much more challenging during the Olympics. And Transport for London, which runs the tube and bus services, must be enjoying a big spike in revenue to help pay for all of the infrastructure work.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.