Marketing in the motorcycle industry has rarely been particularly creative. Whereas we all expect high production value commercial campaigns in the automotive sector, the bike business has been largely left to the quiet arenas of magazine print ads and lobbying the specialty press. Once and while, motorcycle marketing is seen on television, but even there, perhaps especially there, the advertising tends to be conservative, with a male voiceover bestowing the bike's virtues during the inevitable beauty shots of a motorcycle on either a twisty road or impossibly cool urban landscape. The net takeaway for the viewer is almost always weak, with the advertising manufacturer concluding that television is not a cost effective means of reaching the motorcycle consumer.
The economic crisis has crushed most OEMs enough that advertising budgets are a pale shadow of what they were before. Simultaneous to this, many traditional, even some highly venerated cycle magazines have shrunk, or disappeared altogether. In this climate, and with very few genuinely new motorcycles to offer the public, marketing departments have had to radically alter the way they communicate to the customer base. Fortunately, lack of money, loss of print exposure and pressure to re-energize stagnant product portfolios has forced inventive and, for our industry anyway, innovative advertising ideas.
Enter the teaser. As recently as 2009, all new motorcycle launches were of the big bang variety. A manufacturer with global pretences would invite the specialty press to a launch event, typically at some beautiful venue, with either historic symbolism or at least some flattering roads, and wine and dine the media while carefully unveiling press kits, studio photography, specs and of course, allowing test rides. The journalists would all go home and almost simultaneously the whole world got magazines full of news. One week the world knew nothing, the next your motorcycle was on every news stand.
With budgets cut, the old idea of teasing consumers has emerged as the new must-have marketing campaign tool. Yamaha has been perhaps the most prolific with physical teaser concept bikes on show stands, going back to the 1986 Morpho 1 and continuing pretty much up to 2009's Tenere concept at Tokyo's Motor Show. These physical teasers foreshadowed new products, or at least new product ideas and certainly generated news, but more for the brand as a whole than for any given machine. Without definitive details most consumers lack the imagination to foresee their potential for real world products. Also, they are expensive to produce and demand a lot of patience of consumers, who have to wait anywhere from one to five years to see something tangible they can actually buy.
Providing instant gratification to a consumer world rotating around the internet is the marketeers new mantra. Movie industry-style trailer videos, with actual products in real world conditions can be generated quickly, and distributed for free via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which quickly get republished by an army of bloggers around the globe. Static images, accompanying quotes, or specifications fired off in short bursts add fuel to the flames, inciting curiosity and interest. 2010 has seen the teaser campaign dominate the premium motorcycle market, with literally every major OEM sending out a steady trickle of information over the many months leading to show season. Consumers and enthusiasts now expect to see some sort of news about upcoming products on a weekly basis, and track them on dedicated forums.
Another new guerilla marketing tactic that is booming is the so-called "leak". In this case, a magazine or blog breaks out a scoop, usually featuring a photo of a new motorcycle caught in a secret test. Genuine leaks are not new, but in past years manufacturers went to considerably lengths to protect confidentiality until the big bang press launch. This year, it is clear from the sheer number of leaks, that they have become another low cost form of excitedly building interest and hype, and are being orchestrated by the manufacturers themselves. There simply is no logical way to explain how all of a sudden, OEMs with decades of experience keeping projects secret, have collectively all sprung leaks.
In any event, teaser films, images and specs, whether released intentionally or leaked have replaced the traditional big bang product launch. So far, they appear to offer the best combination of exposure for a reasonable investment, and have had the spinoff benefit of introducing hype, via repeat blogging, to a wide audience of non-enthusiast consumers, something traditional specialty press could never do. Also, since most of the information is being repeated by ordinary individuals, any commentary made is given extra credibility, since it is not originating from the usual manufacturer propaganda machine. Effectiveness in the long run will require at least another year to measure accurately, but early indications are that while high profile, not all campaigns are definitively positive.
Triumphs recent long winded teaser trail for the Tiger 800 dragged on so long that it risked alienating enthusiasts and curious consumers by teasing them into irritation and apathy. On one Triumph fan blog, many posters openly mocked the lack of substantial new information in each new teaser, while others had terse words for what they perceived to be "a never ending joke". Another major campaign, the BMW K1600GT, was more straight forward, with only a few teasers released at sensible periods, but each providing genuinely revealing information and imagery. While actual statistical information on each campaign's audience awareness and market penetration are not available, informal polling taken by MMW to a pool of 22 industry professionals reveals that more than 75% viewed the BMW campaign favourably, compared to under 30% for the Triumph.
One large potential risk brands face with guerilla marketing tools is losing control of the message. As each teaser is launched into the internet, it takes on life of its own, forming in whatever direction public opinion chooses. Of course, this is possible in every public product launch, but without the tightly controlled first impressions of the traditional big bang, it is easy for vital information to get overlooked, misunderstood, or worse, presented erroneously. An example of this was seen with the Ducati Diavel campaign, and its controversial 240 section rear tire. Original leaked images revealed an extremely wide chopper-style rear tire, which immediately split the public blogsphere down the middle, either for or against this radical design. Each side debated loudly whether it would improve or hinder performance, citing largely uninformed heresy and speculation to support their arguments. Ducati intervened eventually with a short quote to assuage fears of the naysayers, but the court of public opinion and its negative insinuations had stained the campaign somewhat.
Marketing motorcycles in a social-network-centric world is going to take time to perfect. The car industry has had several successful such introductions, such as the one for the new Ford Fiesta, and it opens powerful possibilities in a cash poor environment. It will also take considerable study of the impact this style of marketing will have on the traditional base customers, who have come to cherish the conservatively established norms in motorcycle media. Making these two, disparate universes work together will be a terrific challenge.