Knog, the Australian lights, bags and locks brand, had a spectacular stand at Eurobike. Spectacular as in shocking to some; awe-inspiring to others. Maybe even offensive to others. How so? Watch this YouTube video, and get ready to explain why you're watching not-safe-for-work material…
The stand contained graphic representations of certain acts, played out in certain costumes by certain well-known plastic figurines.
Let's just say you've never seen Barbie do this to Ken before.
The stand also had guns and guts. Acceptable on a stand in Europe but perhaps not quite so acceptable for a stand at an American trade show. (In America, Knog's puncture kits are called PC Patches while in the other 45 countries where Knog is distributed they're known as Porno Patches).
The Knog crew were in London yesterday and I asked company co-founder Hugo Davidson to explain the rationale behind the Eurobike stand and whether it could be displayed in the same form at Interbike.
"Last year at Eurobike we had our normal looking booth, slatwalls full of just products really and people said ‘nice booth, great to see you, see you next year’. They expected us to do the same sort of booth this year," said Davidson.
"But we figured we’re mature enough as a brand not to have to show just products every time. People now know where we’re coming from as a brand, the products no longer have to tell the whole story.
"A trade show is one of the most potentially boring three days of the year, traipsing round and round a load of halls. We wanted to be memorable; we wanted to present the products as art.
"We spend a lot of time designing our products; we have really creative people working for us so we asked our designers to come up with ideas for an art exhibition, presenting the products on dioramas."
And it worked. The Knog stand was a show knock-out, with a subversive wow factor that might not appeal to those easily shocked or over the age of thirty (although Mike Lelliott, the prime mover behind the Knog marketing, is 40).
"Our booth was packed," enthused Davidson. "People spent time going through the stand, looking at everything. There were lots of smiles and giggles. We had more people take photos of our products than ever before."
One of the most photographed displays featured dolls doing stuff dolls don't normally do in public.
"Our Whiplock lock was the product that used Barbie," explained Davidson. "Whip suggested bondage so that’s where that diorama came from.
"We had a lot of company discussion and debate about the stand and what was going to go on it, and how it might be received. There was always going to be level of uncertaintity about acceptance or otherwise.
"When we set up the inflatable and starting laying out the dioramas, I thought ‘My God, this is going to be a disaster.’ I had a momentary loss of confidence. But then when the stand was finished, I thought we’d pull it off. And it turned out that way. It was our most successful show ever.
"The understanding of the product is now much greater, much deeper.
"Yes, the stand was about shock and awe. It had ‘look at me’ all over it. But that’s what every company wants at a trade show: to be noticed."
Davidson and the Knog stand will be at Interbike next week (it will turn into a booth, of course).
"We'll have the same stand," said Davidson.
"I can’t tell you exactly how we’ll approach it because that’ll spoil the surprise, but we’ll be trying to replicate it as accurately as possible.
"We might have to introduce a ratings system for parts of the stand. We don’t want to offend anyone."
So, if the 2010 stand/booth is so controversial and so talked about how on Earth will Knog be able to top that next year?
"I don’t know. But I think we’ve only scratched the surface of how we will now exhibit at trade shows."
There will be a full interview with Hugh Davidson in the next issue of BikeBiz, a Barbie-free zone