The Amgen Tour of Confused Californian Branding

May 13 2012

Eight Days of Epicly Poor Branding

Eight Days of Epicly Poor Branding

The Tour of California has an image problem. Mercifully, it’s nothing to with jersey zips—it’s more that the race’s marketing material is absolutely incomprehensible.

Let’s overlook the fact that “Eight Days of Epic” uses the most cored marketing term in recent memory (it’s been a joke on Archer for crying out loud)—the Tour of California is anything but. The race has struggled to find hilltop finishes that don’t end in a bunch sprints and Phil Liggett once described the peloton as “lost at sea” on the state’s enormous swathes of tarmac. There have been some interesting crashes, but beyond that, not a whole lot of drama—unless you count hockeygate.

And to use what appears to be the image of Mario Cipollini? While Cipo’ may have had his share of deep-dug, gritty wins, the man spent his career cultivating his image as an effortless winner who abhorred suffering: being literally towed to the start line in a chariot, flamboyant wardrobe changes up to three times a day at press events—heck, in 2003, Domina Vacanze bought his entire team to use the Italian’s reputation for getting in the beach time in their advertising. To grit him up and label him “epic” is almost insulting.

I won’t deny that there was a time when the ToC could have branded itself like this (and did). At its inception, the race was an early-season tune-up, complete with miserable early-season weather. But it offered riders way to suffer through the rust, torch those last few pounds, and get in some valuable race miles, all with the creature comforts of wide American roads, reasonably well-equipped, American-sized hotel rooms each evening, and the support of racing-starved American fans.

This isn’t to say that the Wellie-clad fanbase lining the bergs and cobbles in Belgium each spring is any less enthusiastic than its American counterpart, but yo-yoing at the back of a lined out field and trying not to swallow too much pig dung while fully-tuned classics specialists trade haymakers appeals to a relatively small segment of the peloton. The first Tours of California offered suffering, but on a much more sensible scale for anyone seeking peak fitness in July.

But the fact is, the Tour of Cali is no longer a boots-and-rain-cape affair. After a few rainy seasons, the race has grown up, taking a mid-season place in the cycling calendar where it fills a vital niche rebooting the campaigns of weather-beaten classics riders coming off rest, and providing a vital step in the training of Tour contenders who don’t want the full-on physical beatdown of the Giro. It’s a warm-weather, safe, comfortable retool, and—without intending the slightest disrespect—it’s about as non-epic as you can get.

And frankly, going whole-hog on that “glamor race” branding would be a perfect fit. It’s California, after all—land of movie stars, palm trees, sunny days, and legislative indulgence. I’m not denying that there are some awesome stages planned for this year’s race, or that there’s no glory in winning them. But no one with their eye on the Champs Elysees is going to make a redline effort to secure the Tour of California title.

Tour of California banner

Riding for Frodo, apparently.

I suppose the website banners and the San Jose poster almost have a sense of what I’m getting at; though the gleam-and-gradient on the lettering is a little more Las Vegas than Los Angeles, there’s at least some attempt to portray glamor. But the rest of the poster—a bunched peloton riding through a landscape that looks more like Mount Doom than the Pacific Coast Highway, falls back into the “epic” trap.

All that said, I do understand what the ToC organizers are going for with their “Eight Days of Epic”. But the fact is, it still doesn’t quite work. It’s a half-measure. And it doesn’t have quite enough mass appeal for the passive fan. So I’ve whipped up a little something that should snag the eyeballs they’re targeting with aplomb, all while trying to maintain the questionably-intended imagery they’ve chosen for themselves.

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11 Responses to “The Amgen Tour of Confused Californian Branding”

  1. colin 13 May 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    It’s true. After today’s stage, I got all stoked on ATOC, right up until I looked at the rest of the stages. So basically, it’s one summit finish and one TT, and a bunch of other days that are gonna be domestic riders spending all day in DA BREAK, only to get caught in the final kilometers with all GC contenders getting the same time.


  2. Erik 14 May 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Moving the ATOC to overlap with the Giro just serves to underscore how inferior the American product is for those of us who follow European racing.

  3. Bryan 15 May 2012 at 2:36 am #

    You are the 1% Cosmo…

  4. tom 15 May 2012 at 8:20 am #

    To quote Not Mario Cipollini from twitter “Amgen Tour of Whogivesafuck. The Giro is on.”

  5. Saddle Americana 15 May 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Epic, bro!

  6. velomonkey 17 May 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Thank you, thank you – neigh a thousand times neigh. Keep it real.

  7. Sebastian 17 May 2012 at 7:28 am #

    As kid growing up in California, I used to ride my bike up the Howell Mtn. Road climb (twice used in this race) and think that a Tour of California would be a perfect international race. Sadly, it hasn’t turned out that way. Basically the big teams set a steady pace that doesn’t tax their TDF contenders too much but does prove enough to reel in some all-day breakaway starring minor domestic riders looking for their moment of glory against the Euros. (Though props to the occasional Euro who joins them in their crazy endeavor.)

    One of the issues is the economic incentive to finish in important city centers. The Howell Mountain Road climb, for instance, would probably produce a great final selection if it followed three or four other comparable climbs on a longish day. Unfortunately all they’d find up there would be a market, a gas station, and a religious college that forbids the selling of alcohol.

    But I think you’re correct that the main issue is timing. What they want is to be a major midseason springboard race like Romandie or the Dauphine. But those races, as we know, already have a tendency to devolve into shadowboxing, and adding thousands of miles of travels to a non-European country seals the deal.

    I feel like the old Coors (and the current USAPCT) had the right idea: attract top stage racers to a post-TDF victory lap where nothing’s at stake for them and they can simply enjoy parading before American crowds. It was like a post-Tour criterium writ large, and it seemed to produce a more interesting spectacle as guys like Andy Schleck can go on a long, suicidal break with nothing to lose.

    Also, am I the only person who hates the adjective “epic”?

  8. James 17 May 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    HIlarious alternative poster!

  9. Larry T. 23 May 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Dead f__king right!

  10. Adam 24 May 2012 at 10:32 am #

    lol that teh San Jose poster has a HTC jersey on it
    shows how up-to-date the ATOC is

  11. Souleur 1 June 2012 at 9:51 am #

    pure honesty without any holding back, is a novel and lost art.

    cosmo, you nailed it again!

    I have been left scratching my head, more on the timing of the Amgen ToC on the race calender and wondering what they are looking for. The rain/nasty hardmen stages like Hincapie notably won, or the like stages…or the nice warm sunny stages in May….where the whole damn cycling world has been watching the Giro for like….100 years now? Why contest this Giro? What are they looking for? Who are they going to capture? Whats the goal here?

    And the marketeering of it? I hadn’t seen that, but brilliant assessment. Just shows these bean counters are human as we.

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