TOPLESS MODELS FOR PROMOTION: Is all publicity good publicity?

One of Melbourne’s largest and most recognisable bike shops, Total Rush, was criticised this morning after photos of topless models emerged from a shop relaunch feature last night. Was painting pink bodysuits on topless women a tacky act that undermines the store’s dedication to women’s cycling? Or was it some harmless entertainment that shouldn’t be taken so seriously?

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Consumers’ attitude towards nudity in advertising

After several weeks and more than a million dollars spent on renovations, the Total Rush team had a cocktail party last night to celebrate the store’s relaunch. Late in the evening, topless models were covered in pink body paint, and guests were invited to pose for pictures with the models.

A photo of the models was published on the official Total Rush Twitter and Facebook accounts, and while the photo was quickly removed from those official accounts, some stunned social media followers took screenshots for posterity.

The photos taken by Total Rush and others received a lot of criticism on social media this morning:

We spoke to Total Rush founder Simon Coffin to get his perspective on the incident.

“We certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone,” Simon told CyclingTips. “We got the idea of a Mercedes-Benz AMG promo launch in Around the Bay that went well and didn’t offend anyone.”

Simon went on to say that “probably 30% of the people there were women” and that “no one seemed to be offended.”

But CyclingTips was told anonymously last night by someone in attendance that “most people weren’t comfortable” with the decision to invite topless models.

The incident is reminiscent of a promo video launched in August last year by clothing manufacturer Limitless Performance. In the video, topless models in body paint were used to show off the company’s new line of men’s cycling clothes.

The video was taken down as the negative comments piled up, with a Limitless Performance representative saying, “We planned to make a lighthearted viral to communicate that we only design for boys, NOT that women can’t ride a bike. Apologies for any violations that may have been caused.

Total Rush founder Simon Coffin offered a similar apology for last night’s event, explaining the company’s intentions.

I apologise if we offended anyone. Part of this was to raise money for a children’s charity called Freedom Wheels, for which we raised nearly $5,000. “

Last night’s incident arguably jeopardises the efforts Total Rush has made in the development of women’s cycling in recent years. In addition to organising regular women’s shopping trips, Total Rush, in partnership with Hyster Forklifts, also sponsors a National Road Series team for women.

The Dynamics of International Advertising

As Sarah Davies noted on the Total Rush Facebook page last night:

“Towards Total Rush management. I thought you valued women as people and athletes… This photo made me sad for those two women and every woman [sic] who saw it.

Lisa Hocking added,

“That’s a great way to welcome female customers and put them at ease.” “Great-so women’s only role in cycling is to look pretty/sexy and be an object.”

Twitter user Simon Mowlam offered an opposing view:

We took this issue to Simon, who said: “We’re big supporters of women’s cycling and it wasn’t meant to take away from that.”

But judging by this morning’s response, it appears that Total Rush has already lost more than a few female clients.

We spoke to Christine, an avid recreational rider who has had her bike serviced by Total Rush for the past three years and has also bought gear for herself and her husband there during that time. Christine also introduced her riding friends to the shop.

My boyfriend bought an Ultegra Roubaix-her first road bike-there with me in May 2013. I recommended Total Rush to two other girls who bought it, but without me being there.

That’s not going to happen anymore. Christine won’t be recommending Total Rush or going to visit herself after last night.

I’ve already emailed all my riding buddies to let them know. I am ashamed to have recommended Total Rush to my friends. Forget it-I’m not coming back. “

There is little doubt that cycling is a traditionally male-dominated and sometimes sexist sport. But lately, it’s come a long way, despite setbacks like Peter Sagan squeezing the behind of a podium girl earlier this year. In any case, the outrage that caused that particular incident shows the progress that has been made.

“There’s talk of getting rid of podium girls in professional racing – it’s 2013 and that’s the level we’re at,” Christine told us. “Those guys [at Total Rush] are outdated.”

Given this climate of change, it’s strange to think that this particular incident was seen by Total Rush as nothing more than harmless fun. CyclingTips was told that the models’ appearance was scheduled more than two weeks before the event, giving the team plenty of time to consider whether it was a good idea or not.

Sure, there are those who argue that the incident was little more than a little bit of harmless fun, but if social media reaction is anything, the incident may have cost Total Rush some customers and more than a little respect within the cycling community.


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