Look at bike ads from decades past and you come away thinking some manufacturers today aren’t fighting hard enough for the customers they could have. What happened to having the balls to compare yourselves to your competitors? When did pointing out there are compelling reasons to ride other than fulfilling a trackday fantasy become a dumb idea? Why did you ever decide to let cars get away with selling themselves as fast or exciting or reasonably priced?
We urge manufacturers to look back at former glories and learn the lessons...
1 Acknowledge cars are the competition too
People aren’t born car buyers - they fall victim to the pro-car propaganda that’s laid on like fluoridated water. Cars aren’t ‘good’, they insulate you from the need to care about your safety or other people’s, they consume vast resources to build and they’re used for ram-raiding. You shouldn’t have let them get away with being the goodies for so long, let alone keep it secret that a £2000 used Hornet out-drags a £70,000 Porsche 911. Easily.
2 Get fighty
You’re supplying rocketships for the ego, and you never tire of showing us the scowly alpha males riding your machines can turn us into. Yet you haven’t got the cojones yourself to namecheck the competition? Not even to stress a point of difference, let alone press a relative advantage or make a concrete assertion of superiority?
3 You can have your cake and eat it
It’s not an unacceptable fact that men feel attraction to women, only when it robs either party of the other qualities that make them human. Have pretty girls in your adverts, as long as you have the wit to acknowledge they’re there because we like them, and it’s us that are simple creatures, not because they are or that’s all they’re good for.
4 Argue your case
Why do manufacturers fight shy of engaging with potential customers’ brains? So accepting are they of the idea bikes are bought with the heart not the head, it seems many have given up putting anything but crude emotional flashcards before potential customers. We are not monkeys. Your bikes are not bananas. We both deserve better.
5 Get them young
Bike firms aborted their own future when they abandoned the fight for a place on young boys’ bedroom walls. Pandering to big money born agains has served them well for the last fifteen years, but they’ll be waiting a long time for the succeeding generations to ripen into discretionary purchasers of big premium bikes. Bikes are not cool to the young any more, yet Marlboros still are. How the hell did you let that happen?
6 Make bikes a way of opting into life, not out
The image of biker as outsider has not served us well. Dehumanised by dark visors, selfish and solitary on our sportsbikes, motorcycling is now so alien to the mainstream most mothers would rather buy their children drug paraphernalia than a CBT. A multi-year affair puts husbands at less risk of divorce than an RSV4. Bikes need to be stitched back into tapestry of the full life, made one of the marks of the successful social animal, not the crutch of the outcast.
7 Say what you want to be
Kawasakis don’t always have to be mean, Hondas smug, Suzukis chavvy: the future course of your brand isn’t to be found in ever more concentrated distillation of what you already are or were. Ducati didn’t really have a reputation for reliability (first in this ad’s list before right answers handling and power) for at least twenty more years, but it was an aspiration. It set people thinking, at least breaking down wasn’t the intention. What kind of trouble would Triumph be in now if it was obsessing over its Bonneville-nicity? As much as Harley, perhaps.
8 Ride the zeitgeist
It makes you look better showing you’re aware of what’s going on in the world; like a bedsit-bound Xbox-addict if you don’t. If there’s a zeitgeist to be ridden, chances are you’ll look better surfing it than shrinking from it. Petrol prices sky high? Wages frozen in an ice age? Dramatic day-to-day living arrangement changes afoot. Helloooooo? Can anyone hear opportunity knocking?
9 Promote your value
Manufacturers may be obsessed by their relative position in the price-point hierarchy, but they neglect their absolute command of value at their peril. A brand new Fireblade, for the price of a 1.2l Fiesta? A full Obi-Wan-spec GS for less than six months’ depreciation on a Range Rover? Promoting the incredible value you represent doesn’t make you look cheap. It makes you insane not doing so.
10 Promote motorcycling
Who’s the most recent prime minister of Persia? Which Betamax sold the most? What’s the quickest route to London by canal? These have all been important questions to someone in the past. ‘Who sells the most motorbikes in Britain?’ could be set to join them - if the battle to sell bikes to motorcyclists continues its total eclipse of the battle to sell motorcycling itself to society. Motorcycling isn't smoking; there is no inevitability in its decline.