The Schwinn Sting-Ray: A Quintessential Example of a Consumer Culture-Driven Product Innovation Success!

Schwinn krate ad 1968

This past week I was enjoying some downtime soaking in some “beach culture”.  Normally that would be code for “slacking off and working on my sunburn” (as I tend to turn to bacon rather than any variety of mocha).  However, per usual I was ever in observer-mode. And one of my favorite parts of beach-town culture is the active, outdoor lifestyle that typically includes non-automotive things on wheels like skateboards, roller blades and bicycles.  And the beach cruiser is an essential part of that.

Modes of transportation have been quick to become central parts of American culture and subcultures – brought in by consumerism and adapted into a lifestyle.  Especially where youth culture is concerned, automobiles have been a part of that since the 50’s – a symbol of freedom and mobility that emerged to also become a facilitator of personal expression.  From hot rods to mini-truck clubs to brands born of customization – like Scion in the early 2000s.

But the bicycle – there are subcultures centered around all kinds of bicycles – from  BMX dirt bike culture that came about in the 70s and 80s  to the hipster “fixie” of today and they even do skiing product reviews. But there is no such iconic bike brand as the Schwinn.

During my stay at the beach, the Wall Street Journal weekender arrived at my door and featured This article about the trend-setting Schwinn Sting-Ray – which is a direct product of Southern California youth culture.  In the article, you will read about how Schwinn execs spent time on the streets of SoCal, observing all the modifications that they were making to their bikes (in lieu of being able to afford a car) and the culture that surrounded bicycles as transportation.  From there, the iconic Sting-Ray was born – was an immediate success and continues to be an iconic part of So-Cal culture – including a subculture born of the trend in “ironic” modification to the Sting-Ray “Chopper”.



It was an affirming read, as I am always talking to my clients and folks in the industry I work in about the importance of maintaining a dialogue with “consumers” as a part of a holistic consideration of the culture that drives consumer behavior.  It is only this way that we can truly identify unmet needs and trends that will be truly meaningful and lead to successful products and business practices.  And it’s good to be able to presume it’s not a “modern phenomenon”.

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