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We Used to Call it Propaganda, Now We Call it Marketing

It’s that time of year, when we put out a new catalog, and release a few new things and all the haters come out of the woodwork to let us know what giant corporate sellouts we are, and warn the world against our evil, premeditatedly punk rock, marketing machine of death.

It used to be called propaganda, now we just call it marketing.

Of course I get defensive, cuz I think Surly kicks ass. But once I get over it and remember that haters gonna hate, I always end up getting nostalgic. I ruminate, while I plan for trade shows and product releases and demos, thoughts and feelings (ew) simmer in the giant stew pot that is my brain; and the subject tends to be the things that first brought me to Surly.

The long story short version is: Fat dude trashes cheap-ass bikes, looks around for something with a reputation for durability, and in comes Surly.

That’s pretty much it.  I thought the website was pretty funny.  As a person who enjoys all his friends (all three of them) having pictures of him on their refrigeratrix machines giving them and the camera and indeed the word the finger (proverbial and the regular in this real world kind), I appreciated that too. But the “image” of the “brand” (like that thing they put on cattle and slaves) didn’t make me want to buy the bike. 

I have never been the kind of person who’s under the illusion that anything (a bike, a car, a suit, a briefcase full of money) would make me cool or make more people like me. (the money might make more people tolerate me, but that’s not quite the same thing).  I just wanted a bike that would last.  So I bought my first Long Haul Trucker and then rode it with a pretty extraordinary folks from NYC to Little Rock, Arkansas. (they rode all the way to LA after I left them).

I loved how that bike functioned, so I tried another.  I spent three years pinching pennies and saved up for a Big Dummy, which is another bike I truly loved, and again functioned in a way that suited me and really gave me greater opportunity to be on my bike, and not in a car.

It was the function and the reputation for durability that brought me to Surly.  The clownish nature of the website was just silly, but delicious, icing on the cake.   All that buffoonery was the first ingredient to knowing that the folks at Surly didn’t really take what they were doing too seriously, that they had a sense of humor about it.  The second part of that, was the glaring lack of false promises. 

The idea that, "Surly bikes don’t make you anything other than a person with a bike," was (and is) the attitude that draws me to the brand. The transparent truth about exactly what this bike will make you; and you take it from there. I liked that, and I still do. It's what I strive to have our marketing be every day. The truth about our bikes, the truth about ourselves. Warts and all.

Back in the day, Surly built stuff for them to ride, and they rode (and ride) it all the time.  They built (and are building) stuff for cyclists who are looking for “purpose built” and not the next big thing. 

In our marketing, we try to make sure we get that across, plus flip off the camera as much as possible. I mean, let's have a great big "flip off" parade, am I right? Honestly though, I think it’s just what happens when you put a bunch of anti-social introverts in the frame of your camera and say, “smile”. It’s really how we smile. Sometimes we just stuff our face.

Honestly though, none of that matters at all.

My dream is that Surly, long after I’m gone (just like it was long before I got here), will still be ripping out purpose built bikes that have ever increasing function. If we/they do that, I'll be riding one for life.

After the last finger is flupped, (made that word up) the bikes will still stand.

Gern Blanston's avatar

About Gern Blanston

A rider-slash-Surly fan who somehow bounced like a quarter at a drunken college mixer into what he thinks is pretty much the swellest job a fella could have, it is Tyler’s job to determine how Surly should seek attention to its products and itself generally. He has an extensive background in children’s theater, which is, perhaps not surprisingly, a good fit for the marketing manager of this company.

Learn More About Gern Blanston

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