Another (positive) Honda-inspired rant

Bob sent this great Honda ad from 1967. The ad’s a perfect illustration of everything Honda got right back then, and explains how they came to dominate the U.S. motorcycle industry at that time. There are a lot of ideas here for aspiring foreign scooter and motorcycle importers (in no particular order):

  • Target Market. Limiting your advertising to enthusiast magazines *seems* fiscally wise, but if you’re looking to rise above the biker ghetto, you need to aim higher. No one dares target an audience outside of crotch-rocketeers and Harley-wannabees. There’s a whole new generation of prospective motorcyclists and scooterists that don’t care about MotoGP, who are offended by slutty chicks in tight leathers, who don’t care about Brighton or Sturgis or N├╝rburgring, they just want to have fun and/or get to work, or to buy their first brand-new, affordable motor vehicle. Aside from the general populace, tech-fetish (Wired, Gizmodo, etc) and “Green” markets are being only superficially targeted by by motorcycle makers.
  • Originality. I’m a scooterist and a bit of a motorcycle fan, and I couldn’t tell most modern motorcycles apart without their branding. There have to be a thousand fake Vinos out there. I’ve seen six fake iPhones described as “The iPhone killer.” The iPhone killer IS NOT GOING TO LOOK LIKE AN iPHONE, it’s gonna look totally different, and be better, from the inside out. The Vespa dominated the scooter market because it was original, distinctive, and simple. No amount of gluing vaguely Vespa-like plastic body panels to a tube frame is ever going to bring that back. Make the investment, look at the parameters, hire some engineers, start from scratch, and try something new. It may fail miserably, OR it might take the world by storm and redefine the motorcycle. It’s about time someone tried.
  • Racing. Very few Americans follow motorcycle racing, there has to be a league somewhere you can dominate. Building a campaign around your race team is pointless in the U.S. consumer market, but it’s worth a mention. Plus, a healthy involvement in racing gives you market credibility and grass-roots interaction with the U.S. market.
  • Displacement. In the ad, Honda tangentically mentions displacement, but not as a selling point. Non-motorcyclists don’t want to ride a “SX1200BFD,” they want a “Buddy.” What if motorcycles didn’t even list displacement? I’ve had three cars since high school, and I couldn’t even tell you their displacement. Each of them went up to about 70 or 80 mph and started to shudder a little, and I pushed them to 100 once or twice just to see if they could do it. They could. Sure, a car nut knows his displacement and talks about it all day, but the vast majority of the population is happy if a vehicle starts, goes 70, and the brakes and headlights work. Ignoring displacement is going to be a hard habit to break, but I’d love to see it happen.
  • Safety. “See your Honda dealer for a safety demonstration ride.” Fantastic! You’ve just addressed the fears of the motorcycle-reluctant in one sentence. Next to “Dangerous” in the dictionary, there’s a drawing of a motorcycle. Honda made motorcycles accessible and friendly, and addressed those fears head-on, by disassociating themselves from bikers and troublemakers. Consumers hate car dealers, so a motorcycle dealership must be ten times as intimidating. That cute, trendy “Girl Next Door” in the ad is the most powerful statement in the ad, if she can stroll into a shop, buy a bike, and ride it, anyone can. And her boyfriend even wears a helmet!

3 thoughts on “Another (positive) Honda-inspired rant”

  1. You are spot on with your premise and analysis. Coincidentally, my first motorized two-wheeled vehicle was a 1964 Honda Sport 50 (model CA110A if my recollection is correct). I had just turned 17 and was blown away when my Dad suggested that he would buy me a motorcycle so that I didn’t have to walk to school. He took me to the new Honda dealer that had just opened up. Honda was so new to the US market that I had not yet even heard about them.

    When I walked into the dealership and saw the 3 or 4 models they had, including the 305 Honda Dream which immediately caught my attention, I knew all I needed to know about Honda. Even my untrained eye could tell that Honda was something very special. Well, I tried, but Dad wouldn’t go for the Dream.

    Nevertheless, that darn little Sport 50 was the most fun I ever had on a motorbike. Extremely well made, really good-looking, 100 MPG/55 MPH….what more could a poor boy want. Oh yeah, the girls liked it too. I wish I still had that little machine.

    Imagine, a 50cc, 4-stroke engine motorbike that goes 55 MPH and gets 100 MPG. Sure makes you long for the good old days. My new 150cc scoot doesn’t go that much faster and gets only 70 MPG. Is that what we call progress?

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