The Truth About... Sponsorship
This week, nearly 20,000 Londoners have signed up and paid for the privilege of pedalling Barclays bank adverts all over town. There are logos on the bikes, on the docking stations, on all the posters, and when the "Cycle Superhighways" are finished, all over the roads. Once it's fully up and running, it’ll be the biggest piece of corporate branding ever. And how much will they be paying the tens of thousands of cyclists to shove their adverts around town? Well that’s the thing, see: the cyclists pay them.
Just to be clear, we pay anything from £1 - £50 a day to hire something that looks like what your auntie Doris would come up with if asked to design you a bike, with flashing Knight Rider-style lights on the front, around potholed roads choked with juggernauts and white vans, so we can advertise the largest bank in the world (according to market share). And if it goes down well in London, it’ll be coming to a town near you soon.
There was a time when people had the option to sell their dignity rather than have it conned out of them. It was in the early 19th century, when industrialists first started to make more products than they could sell. Companies were so desperate to shift their gear that every inch of public space was covered in adverts. When the authorities started taxing billboards and banning posters on houses, the ad men paid people to carry placards and sandwich boards. Thousands of pieces of human flesh, stuffed between two slices of board, roamed the streets advertising overpriced junk for sale in the shops – not entirely unlike the scenes you get down Selfridges today.
Of course, there is one major benefit to advertising other people’s brands on your chest: if you do it well, people think you’re switched on and successful, which makes them more inclined to have sex with you. But no one, and I mean no one, dreams of going down on someone who advertises financial service providers, except for the permatanned CEOs of said banks who like to rub Johnson’s Baby Oil into their naked bodies and pleasure themselves in front of the full-length mirrors in their Docklands penthouses, before crying themselves to sleep. But I digress.
Filling the streets with cheap bikes for everyone to use is a beautiful idea, but all the glory goes to the sponsor, which now looks like fluffy and caring and gentle for "donating" £25 million to the scheme. It sounds like a lot of money to us plebs. But it’s sweet FA to them. Barclays paid their top five investment bankers £30 million this year. The president, Bob Diamond, gets £63 million. And if a gagging order hadn’t been placed on newspapers to talk about it, you’d be able to read more about the very large amounts of money they avoided paying to the taxman last year. Lets just say it’s enough to pay for nine cycle hire schemes in full. And didn’t we sink the economy by bailing out the banks with £1.2 trillion of our own money? Never mind, God bless Barclays for giving us the gift of pedal power – it's not like we can afford to take cabs now anyhow.
If there were no laws against incitement to vandalism, I would suggest doing something like this. But there is so I won’t. Here’s a better idea: WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, charges £3,625 to bike an advert around London for a week. If you use a Barclays bike every day for six months, you should be entitled to nearly £87,000. So here’s the plan: this time next year, every single Barclays human billboard should pedal down to head office in Canary Warf and invoice them for services rendered. The £1.7bn bill would wipe out a fair amount the profit they declared last year.
See how much money we’re all worth? The truth about sponsorship is that we should never, ever give it away for free.