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Specialized apologises for Playboy Bunny e-bike promotion

US brand says German marketing initiative was undertaken locally without global team's input...

US bike manufacturer Specialized has apologised after women dressed in Playboy Bunny costumes appeared next to a limited edition Playboy electric bike launched on the German market that was unveiled last week at a bike show in Berlin.

The California-based company insists that it does not endorse women being objectified, and says that the marketing initiative had been taken locally, without the knowledge of its global marketing staff.

Slate Olson, Specialized’s chief marketing officer, who joined the company 12 months ago after seven years with Rapha, said: “We apologise for a recent marketing activation which we participated in at the Berlin Bike Show with the Limited Edition Turbo.

“Specialized stands strong with female riders and we do not support the objectification of women in any way, in any region.

“In the future we will continue only to build on the great work we have done to promote women and men in cycling,” added Olson.  

As we reported on Sunday, some British visitors to the show expressed disappointment at the presence of the models next to the Playboy-branded bike, saying that it undermined Specialized’s efforts to position itself as an aspirational brand for female cyclists.

> Specialized's "Playboy" e-bike sparks social media sexism row

Many locals attending the show, however, did pose for photographs with the women, with editor Tony Farrelly noting: “None of the Germans seemed to care; they loved it ... The times I passed it, it seemed mainly to be middle aged, middle class professional couples with the wife getting her husband to go and have his picture taken.”

Monika Zamojska, co-founder of UK-based cycle clothing brand House of Astbury, who was also at the show, told  at the weekend: “The reaction was mixed.”

But she added: "These women were there to simply to look pretty next to the bike, and reducing women to just their appearance is what makes it so hard for female customers, athletes and women working in the industry to be treated seriously. We are not here to look pretty, we mean business.

"Women have the right to be represented by the industry in the same way as men do and not to be used as a tool to market products to the male audience.”

In a press release accompanying the launch of the bike, Dominik Geyer of Specialized said: "When the opportunity to a product collaboration with Playboy showed we were immediately hooked!

“Two premium brands – a joint project. The Turbo S Edition combines Playboy lifestyle, innovative technology and pure joy of cycling. We are proud of the 40 unique bikes."

Specialized has since made it clear, however, that the marketing initiative was executed at a local level with no consultation taking place with its global headquarters in Morgan Hill, California.

Emphasising that “this is by no means an excuse as we have to stand up to any decision made in any market,” the company said that “this market activation was carried out locally by the regional marketing manager, and was not discussed with or approved by our global marketing team.”

However, as Zamojska pointed when we spoke to her on Sunday, the rise of social media in recent years means that local initiatives by global brands can – and do – reach a global audience.

"It might have been a product and a campaign targeted at the local market, but that does not justify it, especially that it only takes one tweet for the whole world to see it," she said.

Specialized's statement doesn't say whether or not the bike remains on sale in Germany with the Playboy branding, and we have asked the company for clarification.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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