Mad Men and Motorcycling

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Oh how bubbles burst. We North Americans are used to the popping sound that accompanies the sudden destruction of a previously cherished truth. We understand the consequences of calling bullshit when we see it, like Bostonians did in 1776 when some perky English tax collector tried to justify his work; or when Coca-Cola finally admitted that New Coke was not the revolution it promised, despite what Bill Cosby said. Oh how I remember that day. Sitting around the old Zenith television with my after school friends, each of us blinking stupidly at the smiling face telling us that yes, old Coke, or Coca-Cola Classic as they then spun it, was coming back because of popular demand. I looked over to my older brother whose smug face betrayed our collective feeling. “We told you so.”

Could motorcycle marketing and advertising be experiencing its own New Coke moment?

Motorcycling in summer is one of the greatest things mankind has ever wrought. Riding a bike -any bike- in the falling light of a August afternoon cannot be matched as a sustained high that doesn’t involve narcotics. Every year since I was 16, I have searched for and occasionally found that elusive ride; the perfect moment. If you ride -and since you are reading Hell For Leather I know that you do- you understand the feeling that I am trying to describe. The best word I can think of that encompasses all of the sensations, both physical and emotional, is flow. The air: hot jets from the motor beneath, mixing with the cooling stream of the outside air. The noises: rising and falling rhythms made by the symphony of mechanical parts playing in unison. The motion of you and the machine interacting in an endless series of active body movements… These elements flow or else its just operating a motorcycle. Just driving a motor vehicle.

That is the feeling I chase each summer, and that I am occasionally rewarded with. Right now I type this in my kitchen. The windows are open and a cold beer rests on the table beside me. Several motorcycles lay dormant in the garage in various states of readiness, all hinting at the promise of perfect motorcycle moments to come. But for me, that bubble has burst a little. In fact, it blew up almost completely, thanks in large part to my career in the motorcycle industry. This is bad business of late and since the big bubble burst -and by that I mean the mortgage financing one that leveraged the hell out of everyone and everything- the motorcycle industry in North America has left a bad taste in my mouth. A bit like New Coke.

“…smoother, uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…”

In 1985, when Coke lost its way and then CEO muttered the incoherent phrase above, the motorcycle industry landscape was pretty easy to define. There were four Japanese brands that unleashed hundreds of amazing new technology motorcycle models each year, and then a handful of European brands that made a dwindling handful of over-priced, old technology motorcycles. Harley-Davidson was then just background noise at western bars and trailer parks. No one outside of Little Italy had ever heard of a Ducati, and that BMW made motorcycles came as a genuine shock to the newly minted yuppies shopping for a replacement 325i at their suburban dealers.

As JT Nesbitt said, to those of us growing up during the eighties the tastes of the new generation were decidedly plastic, neon and digital. Any motorcycle with lots of X’s, R’s or Z’s (preferably all of them) and a pink splash graphic was the was the way to go. We didn’t lust for these machines because we read advertising copy in glossy boutique magazines with pretentious names. We wanted them because some kid in our high school (inevitably an enforcer from either the hockey or football team who smoked) owned one and caned it without mercy before our eyes. We didn’t have images of ourselves as metro-sexual urbanites searching for the added sophistication of parking a pristine Italian motorcycle inside a cheerless white loft. We aspired to those machines because they were lusty at work. They howled, incorporated dangerous combinations of pastel colours and evil handling in ways that made users’ eyes water, and passers by either swoon or shake fists. The sport motorcycles of the pre-internet era were all these things, not because they were better or even designed that way, but because the images we had of them had to be fabricated by each of us individually, inside our own heads. The images came from real experiences.

Marketing to a Japanese motorcycle company until the late 1990′s was an anathema. Pick up an old copy of Cycle World, flip through it and you’ll get my point. The ads stunk. They lacked emotional appeal of any sort, and often even basic narrative cohesion. When I began my career with Yamaha, I was sickened by the output of the marketing department, and what it thought was cool. There were two types of motorcycle ad: generic outdoor shots of a motorcycle riding on a twisty road, or (my favourite) a side view studio shot on a white background. Now that is emotional. They always included lots of technical information, such as horsepower or service intervals, and were liberally peppered with a litany of Japanese technical acronyms. Deltabox. Genesis. SRAD. VTEC. ABCDXYZ. Whatever.

In a time before Facebook, Twitter and Hell For Leather Magazine, the only image the public could get of what motorcycling could be was generated by actual interactions with motorcycles, and the fantasies we created inside our imaginations as a result. Sure, my biker buddies and I read the American magazines occasionally, but back then those magazines were written by journalists who actually conducted genuine tests and could stitch together an article that bore at least a passing resemblance to adult writing. Back then, if you wanted to taste motorcycle culture you had to be near actual motorcyclists. The early forays into cross-branding and multi-media marketing such as Kawasaki’s product placement in Top Gun were quite innocent by today’s standards. I don’t recall any shameless beauty shots of the GpZ900 with an obviously enlarged Kawasaki logo in centre. Or a painfully jingoistic plug uttered by a movie character the way Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund push Ducati in TRON 2. The consumer was alone with his or her concoction of motorcycle bliss, motorcycle fantasy, motorcycle what-ifs. And although there have been some fucking brilliant ad campaigns since 1995, the public dumbing down of what the joy of riding a motorcycle really is; really can be, has in my opinion hurt the business.

Today’s marketing portrays motorcycling as a kind of Disneyland. A pre-packaged, easily digested fantasy that removes as much risk as possible and lays out the themes and details of your adventure for you. Step this way folks, and check you imagination at the door. If you want to be an adventurous modern day nomad, or to advertise (literally) your passion for a particular brand of motorcycle, or to impress friends with our style sense and outre lifestyle, then there is a motorcycle brand for you, complete with all-inclusive cross-branded apparel, media and even fully contrived character templates that make the prospect of inventing your own narrative unnecessary. Check the box next to the life you want, hand over the cheque and sign here. At last, the bike industry has caught up to where automobile industry marketing has been since the fifties, and with luck it will punch out the last embers of authentic experience just as effectively.


Of course, this strategy has worked great guns, bringing in thousands of new customers to Harley-Davidson, KTM, Ducati and BMW over the past decade, and fattened bottom lines. Strong sales are good for business, and as anyone who has been involved in this industry for more than a decade will tell you, the reasons are pretty solid. Growth, the mantra of 20th century business, meant that the old ways of depending on the shaky and unpredictable whims of the traditional motorcycle market were not good enough. Let’s face it: you and me, the die-hards who ride in bad weather and extoll the virtues of perfectly synchronized bank of Mikunis are not a reliable foundation for industrial scale investment. If you plot the sales of motorcycles in the Unites States from 1900, you see a roller coaster of epic proportions. Ups are wild, inviting dozens of new brands to set up shop and take a chance. Downs are catastrophic, leaving carnage and a handful of brands left standing. The recently popped Bush-era bubble was the latest in a long and depressing series of unsustainable motorcycle sales booms that over inflated expectations and exposure, ending with predictable results. But there is a difference this time. Looking at what’s happening in our market it’s hard to see the next uptick coming around here.

“I Liked the motorcycle so much, I bought the hot pants.”

Insiders from the foreign motorcycle industry are smiling. The world market for bikes is booming, and money is being made. Just not here. Global brands are expanding, Asian brands most Americans never heard of are feeling predatory, and the European legacy brands are posting big sales. Sales will rebound in North America and volume will return, just not in the same areas. What may be gone for a good long time is the myth that for over a century was the staple attraction to motorcycling: the promise of the ecstasy that comes from conquering fear and danger.

Few young Americans, as has been pointed out by numerous pundits, are showing much interest in the motorcycle. It is my view that a portion of the blame falls on the over marketing of narrow market niches, and beating consumers over the head with contrived user experiences. These have completely sterilized the image of motorcycling to new or returning consumers in North America, overshadowing a good part of the justification of owning and using a motorcycle.

In the old model, North Americans saw the motorcycle as either a commodity vehicle like a scooter or GS500, something that was easily justified as low cost, practical transportation with a fun side; or as an aphrodisiac or expletive for life, like a Norton Commando or FZR 600, that justified itself with grins and quivering nerves. No one told you these things, they were obvious. In today’s model, every motorcycle is sold exclusively as the latter, even though a large majority of North Americans actually want the former. In poll after poll and in every customer clinic, the true, deep seeded need of most bikers in our land is for a two wheeled vehicle that is fun and manageable (both physically and financially), not a toy that happens to be a vehicle. But marketing has led us headlong into this premium market dead-end which has sacrificed sustained sales across the range tomorrow for some fat high end margins today. When the sales flag in the downturns, as they inevitably do, they argue that the solution is more marketing to pump up the desirability of the few high end sales left to be had. The result is the transformation of motorcycle companies (or at least their North American subsidiaries) into media companies.

Ducati, in all its corporate incarnations of the past fifteen years have lead this charge, something which I find extremely ironic. In 1995, when the Bolognese brand was first sold to American TPG, it was the very exclusive and obscure nature of the Ducati brand itself that was the key asset. It was the flawed by-product of real humans who lived in a different kind of bubble, one which ignored fashion and trend and simply produced a few thousand unique and occasionally brilliant motorcycles. Ducati’s strength was it’s isolation bubble, one that actually protected the brand’s legends and authenticity from a sea of vastly superior but somewhat heartless Japanese machinery, a fact that became the cornerstone of TPG’s marketing efforts. It worked, but only to a point. At that point, all of the advertising, the toy licencing, the movie tie-ins and relentless idolizing of the Ducati motorcycle as a fetish object had completely stripped the brand of the exclusivity of experience that riding one once suggested. How exotic to see that $3 disfigured plastic Monster model from Wallmart on the desk of that loudmouth in the cubicle in your office. I bet he has some great Ducati facts to share as you carpool home with him tonight in his Malibu. He gets the brand magazine mailed to him every month.

How much has this improved the company’s prospects? Well, even at current record sales levels, they sell fewer bikes than Triumph, a brand with a soft marketing strategy (and that, even more ironically, have chosen to focus on making technically superior motorcycles rather than just lean on the gossamer thin veil of heritage), and have managed to be bought and sold three times in fifteen years, mostly with staggering losses. Sure, every teenager and cubicle warrior on earth lusts for a Ducati, but they don’t appear to be opening their wallets to get them. Triumph meanwhile, delivers consistently better products year after year and more smiles inside helmets, winning the hearts of more real customers steadily. Dull stuff compared to another slick Hollywood product placement, but so much more rewarding to both the market and the corporate bottom line.

On another end of the spectrum, Honda, a brand that has about as much soul as the lawn equipment they also produce, is introducing thousands of people to modern motorcycling with unpretentious good products like the CBR250, and Kawasaki continues to lead US sales of liquid cooled, modern motorcycles with the fabulous Ninja 250. Their marketing is awful, no celebrity endorses them and to be frank, they are pretty vanilla. But to the teens racing them in the Honda Canada Cup and that fat guy I see on the little Ninja every morning on the school run, they are magic carpets. Those people are riding. And they will undoubtedly go on to buy more motorcycles, not toys and branded junk. Honda and Kawasaki may not be the lode star of the trendy, but they make money selling good products without too much bullshit. I appreciate that.

Gone Fishing

I have by and large spent my career being the optimist in the room, extolling the lights rather than pointing out the shadows of this industry. But as this brilliant maritime summer rolls to its close, I find that it is increasingly difficult for me to get behind the business that has kept me fed for so long. Everywhere I go I hear nothing but talk of fast gains and maximizing growth. It seems that so many brands are going all out to be all things to all people and that most of the senior management I meet are outsiders from the vacuum cleaner industry charged with delivering rapid growth. Good luck.

I like money and growth, but I guess I have become a student of Japanese or German industrial thinking, where steady wins the race, 20 consecutive quarters of modest growth is preferable to puffing up and expanding into a giant as quickly as possible, and engineers are venerated as the backbone of product development. Perhaps I am being influenced by traditional Canadian values that shy away from over-reaching ambitions, something that I have been prone to until now. Or maybe listening to JT Nesbitt rage about the need to fuck planning and get doing has touched some nerve (I still think he’s wrong, but it gives me pause). Whatever it is, after too many seasons of being a motorcycle industry consultant I am going to take a breather this fall and become a motorcyclist again. I’m going out to ride my bikes, at least until Halloween is over.

At the highest levels of this industry, especially in North America, executives could do a lot worse than get out there on their bikes and ride with real bikers for a couple of weeks. Until EICMA in November and the 2013 production ramp up there really isn’t anything more important to do anyway. Maybe they could get back and decide to cut back on T-shirt sales and marketing consultants and put the investment back into manufacturing great motorcycles. It is nothing less than what North America deserves.

Happy, safe motorcycling. And watch out for the wet leaves.

Michael Uhlarik is a veteran motorcycle industry consultant and award winning designer of motorcycles for brands like Yamaha, Aprilia, Bombardier, and many others. He is the founder of Amarok Consultants, and the chief designer of the Amarok P1 electric racing experiment. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

  • ike6116

    Yeah, that’s correct.

    • Sean Smith

      Times a million.

    • Scott-jay

      Thank-you, Michael.

      • IAimToMisbehave

        ….. and if I may … an addition to Michael’s insight and wisdom .

        One thing all these fresh out of MBA programs , marketing .. so called ‘ Guru’s ‘ have either forgotten or worse yet never learned is the following business Axiom ;

        ” Mass Marketed Luxury will inevitably Consume itself … leaving the company in question with only two possibilities ; Cheapen the brand significantly as to quality of product etc — or face eventual demise “

        • michael uhlarik

          “If you tell me to double the profits of Hermès, then I will do it tomorrow. But then you’d have no Hermès left in five years.”

          Patrick Thomas

          CEO of The Hermès Group, one of the world’s premiere luxury brands

  • phobos512

    I have a 2011 CBR1000RR in the garage. I used to have a 2007 ZX-6R in there. I have a CBR1000RR and a ZX-6R on my desk. I have an HRC hat. I buy the bikes and the branded crap. Go me :)

    • Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

      sounds like you dont get to ride enough.

      • BMW11GS


  • Gene

    “a side view studio shot on a white background”

    That’s ok… a simple pic of a RG500 could make me need clean underpants when I was in college (or heck, even today). It didn’t need anything else.

    Today I buy bikes in spite of the advertizing. Look at all the ads for FJRs & SVs out there.

    Seriously, though, this isn’t just bikes.

    It used to be an ad had some grain of truth in it. You’d say yeah, it’s an ad, and take a large dose of salt with it, but you’d listen a little.

    Nowadays, none of it is true, and I don’t even listen or look at it.

    Look at the shitstorm with Nokia where they got caught saying an ad was filmed with their new camera-phone, and you can see the reflection of the movie camera in a window.

    The marketing department at Harley is in control because the engineering & racing departments turned off the lights and left long ago. I’m afraid BMW & Ducati are going the same road, and hoping they’re not.

    Now I do have my Yamaha ceramic mug and my Honda 1/72 scale race transporter truck, and my 1/6 scale RC-211V, Goldwing, Valkyrie, & R1200C models, so I do live in a glass house…

  • JTB

    Very good observations, Honda even in the 80s had good ads “Even the Ninja hides from the Hurricane”, “And as I shifted into 5th”. But like you said sitting in corp OEM meetings is a slog fest these days. Even in some corners of the support industry its a bunch of people who don’t ride anymore or never did deciding what and how to make products for riders. It makes “Mad Men” take on a whole new meaning for those that do ride and try to have meaningful engagement with them.

  • Roman

    I don’t think the issues is the quality of motorcycle ads, it’s their complete absence from non-moto media. When’s the last time you’ve seen a motorcycle ad in a mainstream publication or a prime-time show? For moto-heads like us, that R1 ad is pretty spot-on….at least I dug it. So while it may not be effective for the mainstream audience, they’re never going to see it anyway, so who cares?

    North America is not Asia, shoot it’s not even Europe. People here simply don’t buy bikes for practical purposes. It might change some day, and I sincerely hope it does, but it’s hard to blame manufacturers for going where the customers are.

    • Patrick from Astoria

      Huge point here. Motorcycling is a niche activity because everyone treats it as a niche activity. There’s no real effort to reach new potential customers with advertising outside the niche. Other than the occasional bike-riding Hollywood figure, there’s little or no connection of motorcycling to the thought patterns of the great non-riding public (save for the idiocy of sportbike squids and wannabe bad-asses with loud pipes on cruisers, both of which do far more harm than good).

      Someone (Honda, are you paying attention?) has to find a way to break out of the cloister and reach the general public again, both with products and marketing, and both help riding shed its current less-than-positive image and ensure its continuing viability.

      And yeah, I love that R1 ad too.

      Do people just not like machines in general?

      • Random

        “Someone (Honda, are you paying attention?) has to find a way to break out of the cloister and reach the general public again, both with products and marketing, and both help riding shed its current less-than-positive image and ensure its continuing viability.”

        They are, just not in the USA.

    • Campisi

      I don’t think motorcycle manufacturers want to change this state of affairs. North America is currently a low-effort, high-margin marketplace, requiring next to zero market-specific engineering and product development. Why should they expend the energy required to make motorcycles a mass-market product in North America when said market would simply become yet another high-effort, low-margin battle afterward?

  • the_doctor

    I never thought I would see my underwear on HFL.

    very enjoyable piece. Thoroughly enjoyed the read and insight.

    • michael uhlarik

      “I never thought I would see my underwear on HFL. ”

      Or Bill Cosby

    • Campisi

      We never gave up hope.

  • Tony

    “Sure, every teenager and cubicle warrior on earth lusts for a Ducati, but they don’t appear to be opening their wallets to get them. Triumph meanwhile, delivers consistently better products year after year and more smiles inside helmets, winning the hearts of more real customers steadily”

    Well said. I have a Ducati on my desktop and a Triumph in my garage. QED.

    • JP

      Odd, I have the reverse combo, a Ducati in the garage (it’s next to the KTM) and HFL Daytona pics as my destop wallpaper.

  • CG

    You’ve missed one of the most amazing sales jobs ever, right up there with DeBeers, the selling of the MBA. The idea that a “widget” manager can run any form of business is a wondrous conceit, and allows corporate managers the oppurtunity to actually not know and care about their actual product. Or, like HD, think their products are shirts rather than motorcycles

    Top management being passionate about their product might not save the company, but lack of same guarantees inexorable decline. See: Scully, Apple, for a nice tutorial on this…..

    • Tony

      Great observation!

  • Bruce Steever

    Best. Moto-article. Ever.

  • Frosty_spl

    There was a good Harley spot that came out last year. People were slowly trudging around in rusty iron cages, then a Sportster flew by.

  • James

    If you substitute Mainstream Motorcycle Press for Marketing then this article would be right on.

  • BigRooster

    Well written and enjoyable read, but haven’t we beat this horse to death on HFL? How many articles do we need saying the same thing by different authors? Wasn’t the one with the airplane references essentially the same thing?

    • Bruce Steever

      HfL is trying to turn the rusty wheels of an entire motorcycle culture here in this country. It might take a few tries before things start to change…

    • Campisi

      Wasn’t the one with the aeroplane references about electric motorcycles? I may just be getting the cover images confused…

      • BigRooster

        Campisi, you are correct (damn). Point taken, but seriously, it feels like this is a constant topic, and honestly, it’s preaching to the choir. We get it!

        Besides, the industry may be is shambles, but for me, the industry is perfect. I can get the best protective gear in history with a few mouse clicks. Reliability is at an all time high across the board. Every bike form established brands just works now, it’s actually hard to find something truly shitty and unreliable (I mean 70′s/80′s version of shitty and unreliable). Safety features are the best in history. Performance is the best in history – well beyond what most need or even want. Information and community for any bike in the market is plentiful and easier to find than ever before, thanks to the internet (blogs, forums, etc.). Used bikes are plentiful and easy to find, also with the internet. Financing is cheap and easy to get.

        If one is already into bikes, I don’t see what all the bitching is about. I don’t want a 250cc Ninja or a medium sized standard – If I did, Id buy a 250 Ninja or a MG V7. Cool if more option existed here, but it effects me nada that they don’t. I don’t care that motorcycles are a niche. I don’t care if the industry is slumping. I already lust after way too many bikes, none of which are entry level models, so I don’t see my options drying up anytime soon – in fact they keep expanding. I really don’t believe I should fear the day I wake up one day and find motorcycles have gone extinct because the industry only sold luxury products through shit marketing. This isn’t a cult; I don’t need others to join (I’m not opposed to it either…I just don’t give a shit)

        • BMW11GS

          I hear what you’re saying, I just struggle with how what I do is considered strange and where I always have to talk about how I ride when I show up to a party or whatever on a bike. I honestly don’t like the attention or giving my risk management spiel all the time. I am a mainstream dude, I don’t ride to rebel or be a part of something bigger. I just like machines and traveling in the elements, I hate when ego has to get involved too. I know I am biased, but why can’t their be more guys like me.

  • Coreyvwc

    Fantastic article, food for thought.

  • Racetrack Style

    It’s not the lack of ad campaigns depicting the joys of motorcycling that is the 1st issue. That’s secondary to the lack of proactive participation OEMs take in making motorcycling available. They need to be the “bigger brother” ready to teach the thousands of people who’ve never considered a motorcycle or have considered them but have never acted on that desire. Imagine being handed a brochure (by someone at a shopping mall, or other mainstream venue, wearing a Yamaha uniform) that explains the parking lot in the back is ready for training & will qualify for their endorsement.

    I’m forever in debt to my older brother for taking me to a giant parking lot with a CB 350 that was as old as i was in the early 90′s. Otherwise, life may have got in the way and I may have been the one wondering what it’s like to ride while sitting next to a rider at a stop light. Change that, and more will not need an ad explaining the joys of motorcycling.

    • Campisi

      This is a good point.

      The general public has no organic introductions to motorcycling any more; for most people, the only way they will ever even come into physical contact with a motorcycle is if they make the conscious decision and physical effort to seek them out. Very few people still have a “crazy uncle with the motorbike,” and the few that do have mothers or something else that forbids them from riding along or taking his bike around the block. Mini-bikes and smaller dirt bikes, the traditional (and, let’s face it, best) introduction to motorcycle riding for children, are either horrendously impractical to own or explicitly illegal to operate for most Americans near any major city.

      That clearly isn’t the only issue motorcycling in North America faces, but any effort that ignores this problem is going to have a limited effect at best.

      • AHA

        Exactly. I think the stronger point in the article is that new users were driven by seeing bikes in use, not by anything the mfrs did to pull them in (beyond creating product of varying desirabilty.) The pull is much weaker now (in the US & Europe). The industry did a poor job then & the marketing has changed but the results haven’t. This is a story about a decades long failure of engagement between the industry & its users. The auto industry has learnt somewhat from similar failure. Motorbike mfrs not so much.

  • IAimToMisbehave

    A ****ing Amen Mr Uhlarik ! Beyond a doubt the most intelligent and well thought out ….. never mind dead on to the detail article I’ve read on the M/C business in the last decade .

    Maybe I’m just an old Grump and you’re a cynic but my gut says we’re spot on .So again Two ****ing Thumbs Up !

  • Ax

    Until we, as riders in the U.S., start using our bikes as more than “toys”, I’m afraid no amount of marketing/advertising is going to convince non-riders to start riding. The image the public gets of motorcycles, at least in my general area, is of fair-weather weekend riders who are more concerned with showing off how shiny and loud their bikes are to people who are largely uninterested and/or annoyed.

    We have to promote motorcycles as a respectful, responsible and FUN mode of transportation. We need to show the non-riding public that there’s more to motorcycles than showing off our dwindling adolescent hormones.

    The biggest deterrent to my ever owning an H-D (assuming they ever make a bike I’d actually want) is not wanting to be associated with the typical H-D rider. I suspect there are quite a few potential riders who are simply turned off by the image they see.

  • Mark D [EX500]

    The best thing a normal motorcyclist can do for the health of the industry? Other than buying a bike, buy a second helmet. People who never thought twice about two wheels intuitively understand why I’m never around on Sunday afternoons. A few have been completely converted. That beats any advertisement!

    • stempere

      Hear hear.
      By giving people lifts all the time (i keep a second helmet at home and one at the office), i’ve turned two people, one of them taking lessons to pass his test right now.
      I also often speak about low costs to people, they are aware a new liter bike costs 10k+ (or at least that it costs “a lot”), they don’t know you can get a cheap, fun, used bike for 2k that costs near to nothing to run.

    • JP

      Agreed. I find that its the “danger” that keeps most of my circle away.

  • Rick

    Still laughing about the Aprilia RSV Mille “Sperm Bank” commercial of a decade ago…that was a good one!

  • Mr.Paynter

    I went luggage shopping with my girlfriend a few weeks ago and was startled to find DUCATI luggage on sale.

    A small part me (the part lusting after Duc’s I’d never open my wallet for) died.

    Everyone’s guilty though, everyone beats that horse, even Triumph (Steve Mcqueen t-shirt anyone?)

    • stempere

      I won’t buy any of it anyway, but for me a t-shirt is ok, underwear and wine are not.

  • circuitsports

    Nice commentary on the failings of the motorcycle ad industry but what is the author prepared to do about it ?

    Isnt job security still considered a good idea ?

    Also Honda isnt devoid of soul, the contrary. They just don’t broadcast and back it like they should. Look at the IOM TT whose out front ? Whose around the front of the pack in MGP and WSBK – Honda. They make the most reliable and finished bikes despite lacking in some areas there isnt really one thats not a good ride.

    Motorcycle Ad executives unfortunately arent in there own little bubble – they come from the same world that banned the corvette commercial of the little kid speeding around downtown new york in one and thats all they know.

    they need to do partnerships with dealers and make static high visibility, high statment ads that skirt the necessity to be regulated like commercials.

    Other non official things like funding a video department at a college in return for a student made commercial. Aww that sexy lady riding in a bikini is not us it’s what our children made hahaha parents blame yourselfs and thanks for the awesome marketing.

  • Christopher

    I wrote out 4 different comments but then deleted them all in favour of just leaving this here:

    “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

  • Sam

    I think it’s a little unfair to tout Ducati’s current growth as purely from marketing. It’s not like they’ve released any new bikes that have carved out new niches are selling better than anyone guessed.. nothing like the Multistrada or the Diavel. Harley would be a good one to wave around. They are practically a marketing company that just so happens to sell motorcycles. Our champion is Triumph who’s marketing strategy seems to consist of make uglier, faster and cheaper BMWs at the moment?
    Don’t get me wrong, I hate marketing. The advertising industry is the single worst thing to happen to big business ever. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems like the Big 4 still haven’t figured out what to do now that super cheap credit for the 18-24 year old demographic is gone. Not only that but they are suffering as the yen gains value against the dollar while the people buying Triumphs, BMWs, Aprilias and Ducatis are the people that have the money to buy a luxury item anyway and they see such a small price difference that they might as well have something from a ‘exclusive’ ‘high end’ manufacturer.
    It doesn’t help that in the US nobody seems to think of motorcycles as anything other than crotch jewelery that protrays a carefully crafted statement about who they are and their life. *says the grumpy, soon to exit the 18-24 demographic bitch who’s only vehicle is an 04 Multistrada with a hideous top case on it.

  • Chris Davis

    “The tastes of the new generation…” Example

  • fasterfaster

    Little late to the thread on this one, but I think it’s fantasy to believe there’s latent demand for pure, cheap practical motorcycles in the US. Bikes like the Bandit 600, FZ6, 599 to name a few were fabulous motorcycles with the combination of fun and economy that it seems Michael describes as lacking in the marketplace. Not complete failures, but certainly not market successes.
    “In poll after poll and in every customer clinic, the true, deep seeded need of most bikers in our land is for a two wheeled vehicle that is fun and manageable (both physically and financially), not a toy that happens to be a vehicle. ”
    Need I point out that polls and focus groups are worse than useless in new product development? Consumers can’t concieve what doesn’t exist yet and they lie (to themselves) about their purchase criteria. Every human wants to believe they are rational; very few of us are. For better of for worse, the vehicle is an emotional purchase decision for the vast majority of people – whether you’re talking about a bicycle in India, a car in America, or a boat in Monaco. I think the failure of the industry has been to appeal to a very narrow set of individuals, and if anything to assume too much rationality in trying to create appeal – witness the commoditization of the japanese sports bikes and a consumer trained to spec sheet race the HP figure.
    Motorcycles should appeal to emotion, gut, self-expression, etc. There is just a whole lot of room to expand the number of audiences the industry is targeting.