Mountain biking is huge, but riders are a solipsistic lot who would rather go it alone than join clubs. That is a problem the Boulder, Colo.-based International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) hopes to solve with its first new campaign in two years. Instead of focusing on tribalism, the campaign talks up how the organization and its network of clubs helps bikers do what they want to do most.
According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, there are nearly 40 million mountain bike participants annually in the U.S. alone (the organization says participation peaked in 2001 and has been pretty stable since.) The group says mountain biking constitutes about half of total bike participation, and is now much larger than other trail activities.
But membership in the world's major club-based mountain biking organization, which has some 500 clubs in 50 states and 30 countries, is only about 35,000. Part of the problem, says IMBA's head of marketing Mark Eller, is that past efforts have focused on the emotional benefits of being a member of the club. "The end-game is still membership, but in the past we tended to focus on the club instead of the cause."
The new "Trail Love" campaign via Denver-based Cultivator Advertising & Design, which won the account last fall, carries a "Support Trails" theme, superseding the club-centered "You Belong with Us." The latter was by former agency Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. The new creative focuses on the organization's trail-building and -maintenance work. In fact, the IMBA name is not mentioned, and required membership is downplayed in the effort.
Says Scott Coe, co-account director at Cultivator: "Psychographically, [mountain bikers] are probably less inclined to join groups. So for this effort, we pushed [the IMBA] to support the fact that they are also a cause-driven organization."
The new campaign alludes to the volunteer nature of the club, with snapshot-style photography and hand-style typography and design elements, including rough-hewn "Love Your Trail" and "Ride It. Protect It" icons.
Ads will run in August issues of cycling publications like Bicycling, Bike, Decline, Dirt Rag, Mountain Bike Action and Rocky Mountain Flyer and in outdoor lifestyle publications including Outside, Trail Runner, Elevation Outdoors and Blue Ridge Outdoors, plus others to be determined.
Eller says the low-hanging fruit in terms of building up membership is a relatively new strategy of converting clubs to official IMBA-membership chapters, which would nearly triple the member rolls instantly. "We think there are 90,000 people in clubs, but who haven't joined IMBA. By offering chapter membership, we can expand to 100,000 members quickly," he says. "From there, we'd like to continue the growth trend."
Eller notes that a sister organization, Bikes Belong, has ramped up social-media efforts in a push to enroll one million cyclists. "Those numbers are very obtainable in the industry, but it's about getting people interested in the mission and telling them about the benefits [to mountain biking] of membership," he says. "So with Cultivator we have tried to make the creative inviting, so that everyone from the enthusiast to the casual mountain biker will experience it as a fun campaign with lots of images."
In-house research via a Leisure Trends Group finds that the typical IMBA member is an affluent white male in his mid-30's to early 40's with an advanced degree. There is also a small cohort of female riders, and young riders. Among the roster of 160 brands sponsoring the organization are non-endemic sponsors like Subaru, "which has been a big sponsor for more than 10 years," says Eller.
Coe says ultimately the plan will go beyond ads to retail and potential alliances with bike manufacturers. "You might buy a bike or biking shoes and maybe part of the purchase goes to supporting trails [through IMBA].