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 Nürburgring, 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!