Londoners like to ride bikes. This was a point noticed by Tom Hares, co-founder and CEO of new bike scheme Buzzbike, when he returned to the UK from LA where he was managing director of Apple’s ad agency Media Arts Lab. He spotted an opportunity.
“I wanted to do something that was going to add a bit of value and be interesting in London,” he says. “I was amazed by the number of bikes on the road and thought that if we could do marketing and advertising on bikes – but do it with a bit of integrity, do it the Apple way, if you like – then bikes could be an interesting creative platform.”
Buzzbike has teamed up with Cooper (of Mini fame) bikes, who are providing the fleet of cycles. Riders pay a £100 deposit on sign up, which is returned at the end of the agreement, and are provided with a bike, plus a Hiplok DC bicycle lock, lights, insurance and servicing. In return they have to agree to cycle to work for a minimum of 12 days a month and park their bike on the street. This will allow the advertising on the bike to be seen, plus brands will also get access to data from the Buzzbike app which must be used by riders. All data will be anonymous, however.
If you think of a bike scheme in London, naturally the first one that comes to mind are the ‘Boris bikes’, Transport for London’s bike sharing set up, which is currently sponsored by Santander. Hares recognises the comparison but points out that Buzzbike is the “polar opposite” of TfL’s scheme, which is aimed largely at casual bike users. “We’re very much for people who actually cycle everyday, and the big difference is there’s no stand for these bikes, they become part of your life, you get to keep them 24/7.”
The first phase of the Buzzbike scheme begins in the autumn, and is backed by payment platform Braintree. Initially it will consist of only 100 bikes, though the plan is to launch a further 1,000 next spring (Buzzbike is running a crowdfunding campaign to support the later launch and also the evolution of the digital platform). For the project to work, customers must of course use the bikes, and will forfeit the deposit if they don’t – though Hares stresses that they are trying to be reasonable about this and will adjust the targets if a user is ill or if the weather is particularly bad one month.
The arrangement with brand partners is also that the bikes will be ‘clustered’ in order to attract attention. This means that the areas where users live and work play a part in whether they will be chosen to take part in the scheme. “We localise the campaigns,” Hares explains. “The way we sign people up is largely on their home postcode and their work postcode, most importantly their work. Then we get a sense of where they’re going to be parking the bike – because they have to park on the street – and that allows us to cluster those campaigns so the bikes are going to be seen.”
So, initially at least, this isn’t a free bike scheme for just anyone – you will have to be based somewhere useful to the brands. “But ideally over time we can be as inclusive as possible, and get as many out there as possible, as we sign up with more brand partners,” says Hares.
For its launch, Buzzbike is currently displaying a set of the bikes in an installation outside the Design Museum. These feature designs and illustrations by artists and studios including Jean Jullien, Eley Kishimoto, Universal Everything, and Smithtown and as such look gorgeous. It is unlikely the real Buzzbikes will look as good as these, even if the most design-led brands are advertising on them, but they show how eyecatching the bikes could be if some imagination was put into the branding on the bikes (again something we have not seen with Boris Bikes).
Hares acknowledges that the Design Museum display is intended to seduce brand partners as much as Buzzbike users, and is adamant that they will be choosy about which brands Buzzbike will team up with. He also points out that the scheme, particularly through its tech and data aspects, offers a far richer marketing experience than simply “ads on bikes”. “We think it’s a really interesting creative platform for the right kind of brands,” he says. “We’re not for everyone for sure, and we wouldn’t work with anyone. It’s about a premium brand wanting to do something innovative and interesting…. I didn’t leave working with Apple to create a company that did ads on bikes – we’re making something that we want to have genuine creative integrity.”
Apply to be part of the Buzzbike scheme at buzzbike.london