Watson On: Selling The Brand



Watson On: Selling The Brand

It’s normally about this time of year, just before the riding season really gets underway, that most motorcycle manufacturers ramp up their merchandise catalogs and start to offer us some very odd items to choose from. But what on earth really goes into selling the brand itself? I’m often left scratching my head rather than make purchase.

Now, I fully understand that motorcycle companies have to make money and it’s a dog eat dog world out there just to remain profitable and in business, but a glance through most of the manufacturers web sites always makes me shake my head and quite often laugh out loud. I simply do not understand what the marketing men were thinking of in the first place, or who is actually ever going to buy some of these peculiar things that are euphemistically called company merchandise.

If you have a well known brand name licensing can truly be big business. The revenue it generates could pull in many millions of dollars of your company. You not only sell a third party the rights to put your company name on its product(s); you also don’t have to make any initial investments in the item(s) being produced with your logo, and or, name affixed to them. The best part? You get a percentage on every single one sold.

From a business plan aspect it makes perfect sense. Someone else takes all the risks and if the merchandise does well you sit back and make a shed load of money.

But where I struggle is when the marketing folk seem to let the company identity appear on almost anything because it might turn a buck. The prospect of getting the company’s name in front of the target audience or a new audience altogether is all to alluring. I understand selling t-shirts and caps with the company name on them, but I don’t understand branded aftershave, tea sets and cologne, as they have absolutely nothing do with motorcycles!

If you don’t believe me take a look for yourself. Almost every motorcycle company has a weird section on its web site offering peculiar merchandise items that have a no connection to its brand. I have no idea who buys these items, but I would dearly like to ask them why they have paid good money for some of these very strange things.

It would be churlish to pick on one manufacturer as they all offer peculiar licensed merchandise but I recently spent a bit of time looking at what you could buy if you really wanted to and came away somewhat bemused from the entire experience.

Here’s a small selection of what caught my eye. For just under $50 you can buy a set of six Ducati espresso cups in the company color with the brand name emblazoned on both the cups and the saucers. When exactly is a Ducati owner going to sit down with six friends and drink espresso from these? If the answer is never then who is actually buying these cups in the first place and for whom?

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  • Glen

    The Harley cologne is what got me

    • Paul Cypert

      Yes! If you grab a random person on the street and have do word associations with HD or its riders it’d be ages before someone even mentioned smells (and then it would probably be a negative).

      • NOCHnoch

        “notes of burning oil, unburnt fuel, BO, and desperation at the knowledge that life is slipping away and your kids still don’t think you’re cool”

        • Paul Cypert

          Well done! That made me laugh really hard. I can just read the packaging now.

      • Davidabl2

        Sir, this merely proves the need for the product. And that it must needs be industrial strength.

  • William Connor

    Some things definitely go to far. That said I do buy branded items. A lot of them are good quality, last a long time, and I always buy on sale on close out, meaning I typically get it for less than normal retail clothes or items. I actually have the desk set from Triumph which was a gift. It works really nicely with my lap top. I bought a few shirts from Lucky Brand with the Triumph logo on them. Excellently made clothing that has some real nice fit and comfort. What I really like is that they start conversations with non-riders, new riders, and old timers who remember riding or a particular bike they had. I also have a metric truckload of non specific brand motorcycle apparel. Cafe bike, cruisers, sport bikes, etc all adorn most of my shirts. I just love motorcycles.

  • http://motocynic.wordpress.com/ Scott Otte

    Damn, now I need some Ducati Branded Espresso cups. I had no idea they were out there and now my life will not be complete until I have them. Nothing else says Ducatisti like sitting in my garage looking at my bike while drinking espresso from a branded cup (with 5 of my friends?)

    • John Goddard

      I have these, i won them for putting the most miles on in a season from the local ducati owners club. I have no espresso machine though…

  • atomicalex

    You missed the BMW shower set?

  • di0genes

    To answer the question, who buys this stuff? the answer is simple, Tee shirts or even fancy espresso coffee sets are more affordable and require less commitment than actually owning the prestige brand motorcycle, sports car, etc.. In the 70′s when we rode to our favorite watering hole on our ratty Triumphs, we would always have a laugh at the Tee shirt to Harley ratio, ten Harley Tee shirts inside the bar for every Harley outside. I don’t go to bars that much anymore, but I doubt much has changed.

    • Ayabe

      It’s the opposite for me, I can’t find a guy on a Harley without a Harley t-shirt. It’s almost like an Xzibit meme at this point.

      “What are you riding? Oh a Harley? Do you like it? I had no idea.”

      • Aaron

        My dad wears all of his Harley crap when riding. A friend of his has Harley Owner tags on his vehicles…..and his bike. Yes, the man has Harley Owner tags on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Redundant Redundancy. Nothing against HD, I just can’t stand all of the HD everything.

      • bluemoco

        In my experience, Harley owners typically wear some form of H-D apparel for EVERY occasion. Even at weddings, I’ve spotted Harley belts/belt buckles worn with a suit+tie.

  • zedro

    The Harley perfume works great on the taint.

    Ps, the Kawi stuff is great for the pit dog/mascot.

  • Brian

    here are a couple worthwhile suggestions the manufacturers should think about, but don’t….how about partnering with someone like Under Armour and put out branded compression heat/cold wear under layers for the seasons? Or perhaps specially branded Febreeze deodorizer for your leathers?

  • TLars

    I work at a retail establishment and a couple of years ago we were selling HD entrance mats. At the time I thought that was one of the most ridiculous pieces of branded merch ever, but those salad servers might just take the cake now.

    • ontarioroader

      Thunder Mountain Harley outside of Fort Collins Colorado used to sell two different Harley branded toilet seats, one in plastic/pleather and the other in carbon fiber.

  • Kevin Daly

    I don’t own a Ducati but the espresso set is cool. Being I’m a motorcycle fanatic and have a love for most brands, I would buy that set. It is useful and I do drink espresso. Saying that I would only buy something branded if I find it useful. Harley Davidson cologne? That’s stupid. BMW cutlery set? I buy it.

    • NOCHnoch

      Some marketer just read this and came in his pants

  • Tiberiuswise

    I imagine that most of the really wacky stuff is bought as a gift by people with very little imagination for people with very little interest in receiving it.

  • Squabbles

    I prefer not to advertise for anyone. Boots and gloves with no logos are something I’d actually pay extra for. Last thing I wanna do is have to listen to some asshat wanting to talk about motorcycles. I ride to escape people and don’t care to hear your tales or share mine. If you find me off the dirt roads in town filling up feel free to gawk but I don’t wanna hear squat from you and I don’t care if you’re riding too or not, I’ve no interest in you or your bike, or gear. Now scram!

    • Ayabe

      I saw a guy with an A-stars tat on his leg the other day, he was jumping on his beat up Gixxer with shorts, t-shirt, no helmet, no gloves.

      It was amazing.

      • Squabbles

        ok great thanks

      • Lee Scuppers

        Hoping to remove the tattoo, I presume.

    • Michael Howard

      What if you’re on the side of the road broke down or out of fuel? ;)

    • RyYYZ

      I hear you, my anti-social friend. It’s probably something wrong with me, but I don’t always really want to talk to people about my bike, especially non-riders who won’t understand what I’m telling them, anyway: “What are you riding? A Suzuki V-Strom. What’s that? Not a Harley” etc etc.

      • Piglet2010

        I never need to hear, “They still makes Triumph’s?” again. And no, I do not want to hear about the Triumph your sister-in-law’s co-worker’s, uncle owned during the Nixon administration.

        • Slacker

          You may be surprised how much I’ve heard, “When did BMW start making motorcycles too?”

          • Piglet2010

            What should I say to the people who compliment the “restoration job” on my 2013 Bonnie?

            • Davidabl2

              “you need to get out more?”

    • Micah Christie

      Ugh, talking about your interests with others. What a nightmare! Do you ever describe yourself as a lone wolf?

      • Squabbles

        No I like people fine, I just don’t think there’s anything special about riding, your bike, your gear, or where you’ve rode, say something about anything else please. When I see your golf shoes or camouflage I’m not asking you about your birdies or buck knife. Now get off’a my lawn!

  • Jack Meoph

    I have a Triumph coin bank shaped like the Daytona 650 gas tank, which looks pretty cool. I wouldn’t have normally bought it (because I don’t buy that much corporate merch), but it was 50% off, just as cheap as a piggy bank you’d get in any dept. store.

    I’ve also read that HD makes more money on their branded merch than they do on selling their bikes. I’m not sure how accurate that is though.

    • Slacker

      How often do you see someone in an HD shirt and find out they don’t ride a Harley… or anything. I work at a BMW/Triumph/Can-Am shop and it’s not uncommon to have people pull up in an RV (no trailer behind), hop out and come in asking for a Harley t-shirt. Of course, you smile, and say, “Well we don’t, but what kind of Harley do you have?” To which they laugh kinda sheepishly and say that they want one… Oh right! Of course you used to ride dirt bikes when you were a kid. Oh yeah, I know exactly how getting married is, having to get rid of those darn dangerous habits, but once you get around to it you’ll get your license…

      I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had this exchange. More than I can count on two hands. That’s an indicator of the target of the casual gear for that particular brand.

      • HankBWYT

        You must be quite the salesman! ;)

        • Slacker

          I’m actually an abysmal salesman… honesty is my policy. :P

      • Michael Howard

        And many of that type will also educate you about how Harleys are the only bike worth riding, blah blah blah. I always find it a bit odd that so many Harley “experts” not only don’t own an H-D – but they don’t own a motorcycle of any kind. Yet they somehow have that same condescending attitude towards “lesser” bikes.

  • HammSammich

    I think that they make this stuff for your well-intentioned, and ignorant loved ones to purchase for you. Since buying my Bonnie in 2007, I’ve received as gifts, at least a dozen Triumph T-Shirts (which are actually soft comfortable Tee’s for slumming around in), a Triumph Wallet, A Triumph Watch, a Triumph Mug, Triumph patches, Triumph ball caps, Triumph Branded Pens, Triumph Jeans and I’m sure several other things that I’m forgetting about. I’m fortunate to have friends and family who know how much I love riding and who are, in their own misdirected way, supportive of that. But most of this stuff sits in the back of my closet, unused.

    • Doug Herbert

      The Triumph T-Shirts are quite comfortable,, I own several. I own a fair amount of Triumph branded stuff. When their website clearances it out, the prices are really low. $400 and $500 leather jackets are $120 on clearance. $300 mesh jackets are $99 on clearance. $120 gloves are $50. The quality is good, and they seem to fit me well. I do own a Triumph, but I wear the stuff on my Honda and Yamaha as well. I often wonder how many people notice.

      • HammSammich

        Triumph does sell some decent gear – I know they partner with Alpinestars on some of the gloves and one and two peice race suits, and I believe they work with Belstaff on some of the Modern Classics gear (I’ve read that Belstaff is over-rated – never tried it myself). I don’t think most people have a problem with branded gear – although as you note it does make you feel a little key-holed if you are riding another brand of bike. It’s the branded “lifestyle” stuff unrelated to motorcycling that is a little over the top.

  • Honyock Undersquare

    I am very afraid that Triumph branded computer mouse would be a horcrux for the malevolent spirit of Joseph Lucas, the Prince of Darkness. Couple that with Windows 8.anything and you’ll never be able to use any computer again, ever.

  • hunkyleepickle

    Yeah thats where i run into trouble and have to stop myself. I think triumph makes some very nice branded gear, pants, jackets, etc. But while i love my street triple, i suspect i will own at least 8-12 more, and very different bikes, over my lifespan. Now i suppose there is nothing wrong with wearing triumph leathers on my GSXR, but i personally would feel like a right bell end! To each their own i guess. Other than the odd manufacturer t-shirt, i try to stay away from a lot of branded crap myself

  • Mykola

    I’m afraid the tea cups and salad servers go over my head, but I have seen a Triumph Daytona 675R balance bike and thought it was cool; start ‘em young!

  • Vitor Santos

    What do you guys mean by riding season… I ride all year :D

    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      +1 =)

  • TechGuy5489

    “When exactly is a Ducati owner going to sit down with six friends and drink espresso from these?”

    Each week at Starbucks where Ducati owners and their friends congregate.

  • Neil J

    Gaze upon the strange, the bizarre and the insensible… KTM Racing Toaster http://shop.ktm.com/uk_en/racing-toaster.html

  • KC

    I can see a little cross-branding with Starbucks. Wherever you go, there’s a Starbucks. I’d rather pull over there for a break than some mystery place with questionable coffee/food.

    Are you saying that these trinkets won’t make you ride better/faster? A lot of people are going to be disappointed.

  • TheBigPill

    I like moto t-shirts because I really, really like motorcycles and its some of how I show support for the industry. I have just about every brand covered. As for the other stuff, you cab keep it.

  • Davidabl2

    But where are the BMW branded toasters if KTM has them? Surely they’d have a pic of a BMW toaster motorcycle on the side of a BMW toaster kitchen appliance?
    And why aren’t there Dunlop Racing Condoms, Pirelli, or Metzelers?

    • Slacker

      They couldn’t get it right. Rubber was too sticky. Lube didn’t work.

      • HankBWYT

        They didn’t work right in wet conditions

  • Thatmanstu

    If you are going to have a mouse pad,why not one that is your brand of bike? Same for coffee cups,or ink pens or shirts or welcome mats or mail boxes or anything else you damn well please…….I do not see the mystery here….some people like their bikes enough to feel an allegiance to a brand,much as they do sports teams etc….and considering they are going to drink coffee out of something,why not a Ducati cup? or BMW or Alpine Stars phone cover or____or______?………..If you do not,then don’t buy it,wear it or use it………whats next,questioning why some people put ketchup on their eggs or eat their steak well done or buy stuff without logos on it ?? It’s called personal preference,with personal being the key word…..

    • eddi

      Ultimately, de gustibus non est disputandum, is all that can be said.

      • Thatmanstu

        Exactly so. Confusing subjective opinion for objective reason is an all too common occurrence….

  • Pete Hemlock

    Go to WalMart. I think every product has a H-D logo on it.