How Bike Sharing Harnessed Marketing

citi bike NYCFollowing in the wake of several other major cities in the United States and Europe, a bike sharing program has opened up in New York City in the past few weeks. Bike sharing promises to revolutionize city transportation, letting people hop on a bike at one location and hop off at another, skipping the subway or bus. While New York may not be the most bike friendly city, this program aims to change all that. To be a success, however, bike sharing programs need to harness two sides of the advertising coin – selling the system and advertising through bike sharing.

Selling The System

Car sharing programs like Zipcar, or even older car rental services, have made most of us familiar with advertising for this mode of transportation. To really be a success, bike sharing will need to engage a similar form of marketing. How are cities trying to tell potential users about their bike sharing system? At this juncture it seems like many cities are relying on newspaper articles about their programs and word of mouth among biking enthusiasts and the environmentally concerned. Advertising specifically about bike shares doesn’t really seem to be making waves at this point. To really make the program work, however, especially in less biking-friendly cities like New York, they will probably need to be more widely advertised. Advertising on public transport, where people without cars are already riding – and no doubt sitting through lengthy delays – would be a wise move.

Advertising Through Bike Sharing

The other critical side of the advertising coin when it comes to bike sharing, is how to make a profit. In order to make the program appealing, rental prices need to stay low, so the best hope for revenues comes from having a corporate banker for bike share programs. In New York, advertising is built right into the system. Known as CitiBike, the bike sharing program is clearly sponsored by CitiBank – the bikes are the same shade of blue as the bank’s advertisements and feature the distinctive patterns and logo of the bank. In London, the bikes are sponsored by Barclays, another big blue banking giant. In LA, the bike sharing program is seeking a Fortune 500 company to sponsor their bike share. Having a big brand sponsor your bike share seems at this point to be the best way to make the program solvent.

The conclusions won’t be in on most bike sharing programs for a few years, but if these citywide projects are to succeed they will need to harness both sides of the advertising coin. In Washington DC, there are already more bikers than there are bikes, but can other cities attain that level of success? It’s a true lesson in collaboration when cities can benefit their inhabitants and boost advertising revenue at the same time.

Does your city have a bike share? Do you use it?

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Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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