Monday, March 19, 2012

March Madness, marketing ‘badass’

Now that I live in the Midwest, even I can’t avoid March Madness. (Yes, there was something else happening last weekend, besides Daytona.) Last Saturday night, I found myself out with friends at a sports bar while KU -- or was it K-State? -- played Detroit. Since I don’t actually own a television, I can’t tear my eyes off one when I am exposed to it, even if it’s just showing basketball -- a game that I have such a rudimentary grasp of, that I still think refs should call traveling infractions.

One cool thing for me, though, about March Madness is that its a pretty attractive advertising opportunity. As a once-and-still-occasional advertising creative director, I like to see what’s being run in high-profile, expensive advertising slots. I paid extra attention when I saw this ad run, for the Can-Am Spyder ‘Roadster’ trike...

Grudgingly admiring glances from badasses at a road house. "Look, I'm balancing on the fence rail, so I obviously could balance a real motorcycle if I wanted to." Harley-types 'flipping hands' as they pass on the road... It's all about convincing potential Spyder buyers that, yes, they'll be real bikers, whether they lean into turns or not. 

The ad, produced by Cramer-Krasselt, a Chicago agency with a strong creative department which also crafts Corona’s “Find your beach” ads, is notable for a few things, not the least of which is, simply, that it’s running. At a time when motorcycle sales are still, overall, pretty much swirling in the toilet, the Spyder’s the only really outstanding success story in the whole motorcycle industry.
“Wait a minute,” I can hear you saying... “That thing’s not a motorcycle!”
Just what the Spyder is, or isn’t, has been the subject of debate since it first appeared for the '08 model year. Steve Thompson, blogging on the Cycle World site, concluded not so long ago that it was a motorcycle. To his way of thinking a motorcycle’s not defined by its single track and the way it leans into turns, it’s defined by the exposure of the rider -- to the elements and to risks that car drivers, ensconced in their air-bag-equipped cages, don’t face. I suppose you'd support that claim by pointing out that a Ural with a sidecar is obviously a real motorcycle, albeit a strange one. But I can't help but wonder if Cycle World would have put up a blog post that branded Spyder riders as feckless wannabes. I'm pretty sure I've seen ads for the Spyder in CW.

As a motorcyclist of a certain age, I can remember when Can-Am was without question a motorcycle brand. Although it was mainly emblazoned on dirt bikes, Can-Am flirted with road bikes, too. There were even a handful of 250 GP bikes made (with fore-and-aft parallel-twin two-stroke Rotax motors.) 

I don’t know why Bombardier’s experiment in motorcycles low-sided while its Skidoo and Seadoo brands fared well. The fact that Can-Ams are now highly sought after by the vintage MX set is evidence that bikes offered competitive performance; perhaps they were ahead of their time and were only appreciated later on.
With that in mind, I was bummed when the brand was resurrected for the Spyder trike, and not a proper bike. I grudgingly admitted that Bombardier Recreational Products had made the right strategic choice when I started hearing rumors within a few months of the launch that sales were an order of magnitude better than projections. (Actual figures for this new category are hard to come by. Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) is not a subsidiary of the much larger, publicly traded Bombardier company. BRP is, if you can believe it, actually 50% owned by Bain Capital. Yes, that Bain Capital. Anyway, they don’t issue an annual report.)

You may not recognize him under that helmet and behind those shades, but that's Mitt Romney.
It’s safe to draw two conclusions from this rumination... One is that whether Bain -- and by extension Mitt Romney -- are vulture capitalists or not, the success of the Spyder in the marketplace probably created a few jobs on the Can-Am assembly line up in Valcourt, Quebec. And another is that judging from the comments posted on YouTube videos of the Spyder, the acceptance of the trikes by ‘real’ bikers will be slow in coming.
That won’t affect Spyder sales, though, since BRP’s not targeting motorcyclists as a primary audience, but rather the vastly larger market of would-be bikers. And if ads like that one can make them feel like real bikers, Cramer-Krasselt have done their job. Now, if only a real motorcycle company would invest this heavily to attract new riders...

1 comment:

  1. It's a new world. Miatas for men?

    This is a Can Am: