The press campaign and social media roll out of the Specialized Venge was carefully planned.
In the UK, ten Specialized dealers were shown details about the bike at company HQ a week before launch. They had to hand in their mobile phones and sign a non-disclosure agreement. The only thing that some of the dealers would reveal was that something special was happening at Specialized.
The Venge was a bike years on the drawing board and, in the latter stages of its development, there was help from the go-faster boffins at the McLaren F1 racing car team. Riders like Mark Cavendish tested the bike on the road and in wind tunnels. Yet no details leaked out. When it came time to launch, Specialized had a blank canvas and could plan for their launch to go viral.
Chris Matthews, Specialized’s US-based Senior Manager for Global Marketing, tells BikeBiz.com how the game was played.
"On the social media side, we had a small and intentional leak two days before the launch that included a 10 second video of Cavendish saying that he loved the new bike. But you didn’t see the bike or get any info about it other than him saying the new bike was ‘quiet’.
"We also had a print ad that was launching in publications on the same day as the launch, and this also got out about a day before the launch, which added further fuel to the social media speculation: the ad made some claims but offered no data."
The intentional leaks had some media outlets frothing at the mouth.
"We had some publications publishing huge speculations on their websites as fact," said Matthews.
"A personal favourite was one website that claimed the bike had a ‘special coating to reduce aerodynamic drag’. This is proof that in the absence of information, people are bound to make some up.
"But the McLaren association got out at this time, and the gap between what people knew, and what they wanted to know, was massive. This, I think, was the big fuel that pushed this into the category of ‘viral’."
An official media launch took place last Thursday at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.
"When the real story was released a few things happened," said Matthews.
"First, people understood the nature of the partnership: it was an actual development partnership, not a branding exercise. Sentiment seemed very positive around this, because it’s not something the bike world is accustomed to.
"Again, this fuelled the desire for another layer of deeper information: people knew more, and now wanted, in interweb parlance, EVEN MOAR! This led them into the engineer interviews, the charts and graphs, the data – the meat of the information. And because we worked so closely with the engineers on this, the data was super detailed. So the payoff for those willing to invest the time was a substantial amount of real information, directly from our engineers and from engineers at McLaren who worked on the project. And this was the heart of it: it’s a really advanced bike, with a real performance and development story."
But there was a risk. The bike was launched in time for HTC-High Road riders to use it on the Milan San Remo one day classic. Had another team, on another bike, won this race, the story wouldn’t have had its fairytale ending. Cavendish – a previous winner of the event – was a key favourite, with Fabian Cancellera also tipped to do well. In the end, it was High Road’s Matt Goss who won. Riding a Venge.
"To have the launch capped with Goss winning at MSR was the ultimate finishing touch," said Matthews.
"Seeing him cross the line ahead of Fabian was legendary. I’m not going to say it was the bike: it’s always the rider that gets the win, deservedly so. But we could not have asked for a better result."