When Corporate Sponsorship Backfires

BicyclePhoto: Ian Sane

From the Wall Street Journal:

When British bank Barclays PLC agreed to shell out ?25 million ($39 million) to sponsor London’s new public bike-rental program, it envisioned the marketing benefits of seeing its sky-blue logo draped on thousands of cycles around the city.

But this week Barclays’ prime marketing opportunity quite literally turned into a curse.

Londoners woke up Friday morning to find obscene stickers affixed to a number of the rental cycles. Attached to the bikes just above the bank’s logo, the decals delivered a one-word message that, combined with the bank’s name underneath, succinctly conveyed many Britons’ anger toward the banking sector: “F- Barclays.”

“There are fairly resourceful people out there, even if they’ve got potty mouths,” said Matt Brown, a spokesman for Transport for London, which runs the city’s extensive network of public buses, trains, boats and now bikes.

Even more powerful than unbranding, it would appear. I particularly like the Transport spokesman’s comment. The Brits do have a different sense of drollery, don’t they? I cannot see a U.S. spokesman waxing quite so entertainingly …

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  1. Ian Callum says:

    The bigger story here seems to be the animosity that’s expressed toward the sponsor. There must be some very deep seated feelings toward this company. They might want to examine why people dislike them so much before they engage in any kind of public relations effort.

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  2. Alex says:

    makes me feel proud to be british.

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  3. Chris Markl says:

    Is this necessarily a bad thing for Barclays? Ofcourse people at the company will think its terrible, but I imagine that

    1) Significantly more people will notice the Barclays sponsorship.


    2) This might create sympathy for Barclays. Perhaps many people will say that Barclays was trying to do something good by sponsoring bike rentals and they deserve some sort of break.

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  4. Ian Kemmish says:

    Barclays have long been a bete noir – when I was at Cambridge in the 1970’s, the local branch occasionally got picketed over the banks investments in South Africa. And they’ve been in and out of favour ever since. This, presumably, is one reason they felt the need to polish up their image by putting money into Boris’s bike scheme. One suspects that the number of riders actively avoiding the bikes with the new logo will nearly have been cancelled out by the number of riders actively and proudly seeking them out.

    And Anglo-Saxon is after all an old and noble language…..

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  5. Tom Calver says:

    Chris Markl has a point- this will probably make more people notice Barclays sponsorship. Though possibly not in a good way.

    Their problem to date has been that their prime marketing opportunity has been anything but. The bikes have become know as ‘Boris Bikes’ after the mayor rather than ‘Barclays Bikes’ after their sponsor.

    I’d love to know if London having a mayor with an alliterative name was even considered as a risk by Barclay’s marketeers…

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  6. Nate C. says:

    Are you sure it backfired? I’m an American. I believe in the bicycle as part of the future of American transportation. I never would have heard about Barclays’ sponsorship of cycling if there were no obscene stickers.

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  7. Calvin Graham says:

    At the same time, the Labour party desperately/comically suggested that Barclays were politically chosen because their corporate branding is blue (the same as the Conservative party who introduced the cycle scheme). It’s as if a Republican instigated system was sponsored by Staples and then the Democrats went mad and accused them of choosing a republican red coloured partner for poiltical purposes.

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  8. Emmi says:

    Indeed the Transport spokesperson was both entertaining and diplomatic. Bravo to the grafitti-ers. Reading about Barclay’s actions made me ill. The next time we help an elderly lady cross the street, be sure to shove a bunch of business cards in her hand. I mean really, how immodest.

    You want to do something nice for the planet, for wildlife or for other people? Do it and then walk away. Should the rest of us expect promotion as a reward for every good deed? This corporate trend needs to be challenged, especially by U.S. citizens.

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