How Tour de Pharmacy became a PR campaign for cycling in the US

Tour de Pharmacy

Professional sport provides its fans with a hypertrophied reality. On the one hand, it displays its fighting against doping, discrimination and much more. But on the other hand, all the flaws of professional sports continue to exist. Many fans understand it, but sports representatives continue to insist on their reality.

There is very little humor in professional sports. It is a serious thing. From my point of view, the sport is lacking normal, easy entertainment and self-irony, as any serious thing is. It is especially so when professional sports do not keep pace with changes in society, continuing to lose Generation Z.

And when they try to solve each of the problems listed above, and even with the help of one project, it is worthy of respect, even if not perfectly accomplished.

The mockumentary is a fictitious documentary, built on a humorous basis. This genre provides an opportunity to address the issues from a position of humor by showing excessive seriousness around the things going on.

In early July, HBO released the Tour de Pharmacy mockumentary, which is a parody of the Tour de France and doping issues in cycling.

Perhaps, this 39-minute film would not be worth a special attention, if it were not for all the stars that were part of it.

Andy Samberg, Orlando Bloom, John Cena, Dolph Lundgren, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fielder, J.J. Abrams, Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson do not even constitute a complete list.

I cannot say that the humor presented in the film is sufficient for a constellation like that, but Tour de Pharmacy is catchy because of another thing. I described humor from a scientific point of view, tried to use it at least in combination with irony in some projects, and even applied it in the script of the Leon Saves Football show. And I have a conviction that people who earn money from humor specifically should make humor better than I do. I did not feel it in Tour de Pharmacy though.

However, this parody of cycling, or rather of ESPN documentaries, has got enough irony in the spirit of SNL. After all, Andy Samberg has been working there for seven years. And the film’s director Jake Szymanski has also had a work experience in this show.

Tour de Pharmacy was kind of a sequel to 7 Days in Hell mockumentary on the tennis issues.

They are built on similar patterns and even share quite similar jokes. But 7 Days in Hell was definitely much better. It had got enough stars as well. For example, Andy Samberg’s character was the foster brother of the Williams sisters according to the script, and Serena Williams had got enough time in the film.


Why is humor important for sports? I’m not going to dwell on the importance of humor for the content virality. The negative is surely able to help get more effective indicators. That’s our (and not just our) evolutionary feature made full use of by the media. The fear and negative stuff interest our brain because of the potential danger behind them. In order to survive and have more time to reproduce the offspring, we had to be aware of all the possible danger on our evolutionary path.

The negative stuff though can’t be used often for the benefit of the brand. In the long term, this will have grave negative consequences. Although in the short term, the negative stuff is sure to bring better results.

This is certainly a big problem. We often see the short-term perspective prevail. In marketing and especially sports marketing, too many dismiss the long-term prospects completely, trying to score big here and now. As a result, we are witnessing most clubs and companies’ terrible decisions for the brand over and over again. Believe me, in a sufficient number of cases no one is made to think so narrowly. There are a whole lot of reasons why this happens.

And surely, when such specialists see the results obtained from the use of the negative or a poor quality humor that were aimed at not the most solvent audience, they begin a systematic trampling of their own brand into the mud. A qualitative humor instead is an excellent opportunity to engage positive emotions in brand positioning and communication with the consumers.

Of course, when there is a crisis situation, humor is a great way if not to handle it then at least mitigate the negative consequences. I’m pretty sure Tour de Pharmacy has got a desire to improve the brand of cycling in the US behind it. The negative impact Lance Armstrong caused to cycling in the US is serious. I do not think Lance Armstrong’s own brand can be saved. His situation is even worse than that of Tiger Woods which I’ve dwelt on before.

Armstrong’s appearance was criticized on NPR. Critics believe that he did not fit into the film at all. He needed to have some high-level work on PR done before he could appear in this character. They pointed to the example of Mike Tyson who had done a similar job and now can, to some extent, be normally perceived by the public.

But even in general, the film does not appear to be integral, it looks like being composed of different sketches glued together, with some episodes being so lengthy that critics raise the logical question of using the Drop the Cow effect. It is a created by Monty Python effect: in a prolonged comedic scene, one has to drop a cow down on someone, that is, make some dramatic change in the plot to close the scene.

We can state though that the PR campaign of cycling turned out fairly good. However, considering all the names involved in film making, we can call it not the most successful one. The film did not create a special stir; it didn’t get a strong negative reaction either. I think this is not what those whose interests were behind Tour de Pharmacy expected to get, but I think the consequences for cycling can be quite positive anyway.

I’m sure that similar mockumentary series can have basketball or baseball added in the future. They may even include American football. As far as the mockumentary for MLS is concerned, I just see it made by Abso Lutely Productions who participated in the production of the Review and Nathan for You.

Considering how the major American leagues work for television, such a format is sure to draw their attention, although now Facebook is a threat to American television. In case you missed it, it became known in June that this social network which had finally turned into media decided to start producing its own video content.

And in early July, it was reported that Facebook would make a reality show about the Ball family. For those who don’t follow the basketball, the Ball family is three basketball players and their father, a former basketball and American football player.

This reality show will be one of two original Facebook projects. It will spend $3 million to produce each episode. I don’t appreciate it being a reality show, but Zuckerberg and the company need to cover the widest possible audience, so there is no reason to expect anything appropriate. However, the Wall Street Journal claims that Hollywood studios will be involved. So, what we will probably be pleased with is the quality.

Anyway, the Facebook’s decision at least has logic about it. The one that has none is Fox Sports who decided to re-arrange their site to have video content only (without any textual news). It’s a highly controversial decision, especially since Fox Sports is fond of serving ads even before the short videos.

The problem is that American television (and media in general) is dependent on various influences no less than the Russian one is. From time to time, the controversy about the influence of the US special services on the cinema and the television industry is stirred.

It is unpleasant to realize that high-budget projects do not only have money behind them, but also the ideological interests of the state and separate structures, which is not a surprise either.

In particular, recently in the framework of the Freedom of Information Act, some documents on this topic have been declassified. If it was assumed earlier that the Pentagon and the CIA had an influence on less than 600 films and a couple of shows, then after processing the declassified documents, the scope of control became much clearer.

It turned out that the US special services had an influence on more than 1800 different films and shows, starting with James Bond movies and ending with the Top Chef cooking show.

Many blockbusters cannot be shot without the technical assistance of special services, so the makers of high-budget films are forced to change their scenarios. The Ministry of Defense and the CIA take care of eradicating any negative information about themselves.

It was one of the reasons why the Top Gun sequel was not shot, although the first part of it had proven to be a pretty successful propaganda of the US Army. Nevertheless, there has recently surfaced the information that the sequel will actually be released in 2019, 33 years after the release of the part one.

What was the cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Top Gun first part makers like? Paramount Pictures paid only $1.8 million for the use of all the equipment, while the remaining costs were charged to the taxpayers.

In return, the special services not only secured the propagandistic idea behind ​​the film but also could edit the scenario. One of these changes, according to Time magazine, was the replacement of the pilot’s death for his bailout.

Even in Meet the Parents comedy with Ben Stiller, the script was forced to be changed by the special services. At the same time, it was impossible to even mention the CIA in a film until the 1960s. The Agency observed that there was no hint of them in the films.

Everyone cares about his brand as he can. I believe it to be a positive moment in the work of a company and an organization if they care about their brand and at least somehow track the emergence of any paracrisis that are able to evolve in a crisis in a short time.

But trying to protect a brand, whether it is a brand of a company, club, government department or a president, through control is not the best solution, which in the long term will have a negative impact. The use of an administrative resource that allows some to feel their equality more than the others do has two sides.

On the one hand, we see cohesion and an attempt to protect our group and ourselves in this group at all costs, but on the other hand, we see the hatred for this group from many who are outside of it. Let’s keep in mind that our species is evolutionarily inclined to democracy and high sociality, therefore the society is extremely sensitive to any manifestation of inequality.

It’s good to use films as a tool to change the perception of the brand. So cycling gets our plus. It’s not its fault that the Tour de Pharmacy makers were too enthusiastic about the task.

It’s bad to establish an ultimate control, including by creating a dependency. You cannot control everything. Instead of dealing with the consequences, you’d better look into what caused the negative around the brand.

Do you want to get professional consultation or assistance in creating a PR strategy? Write to me on E-mail, and we will respond within 24 hours.


Best regards,

Leon The Alien


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Images: HBO, Giphy