Photo Credit: Jim McKenna
Friday, December 7th, 2012 – Press day at the Long Beach Progressive International Motorcycle show, and a flock of journalists is shepherded booth to booth for product announcements and unveilings. It is a pull the wool over your eyes show; all of these products were already revealed at European shows, complete with tech specs released to the internet. With the impact of the reveal thus stolen, what becomes relevant at Long Beach IMS is the business done, the message created and statements of brand health made – the deals and the chest thumping then.
That best happens on the herd’s fringes. Here the guys from Hell for Leather slide through, looking even younger than their hipster-er-than-thou YouTube appearances. The stick figured, tight-jeaned wraiths curate movie poster nonchalance, are the it boys of the day. More power to them, while the power, vision and innovation last. The industry needs an infusion beyond the regular churn of media retirement and magazine folding attrition. On the distant outside of LA and Journalist scenes, I fail even to say a hello.
Others conduct the business of scheduling bike tests and ad sales men pitch the gamut of the motorcycle ecosystem on advertising. Old school print touts its relevance, new school internet explains results that can be audited, while manufacturers ponderously navigate turbulent and unfamiliar technological and social media waters.
The industry missed the silicon valley memo of software development and marketing; fail quickly and if possible cheaply, learn fast, refine your process. Video is pitched, banners hawked and results inflated in this market for your eyeballs. Uneasy truths are avoided; web and magazine advertising’s huge ineffectiveness; returning fractions of percentages of conversions on sales per the number of views. There’s a balance to be struck though, media, regardless of nature allows brands to announce and define themselves before conversations and actions can take place.
It’s social media, where people share opinions and converse about products, that will make or break products. In our present’s information deluge, trusted voices are the ones we know and converse with. The new “impression” and “click though” are conversations across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google Hangouts, texts, emails and, yes, even in person, lead to conversion, or push consumers away from it. For marketing, conversation counts, so you’d best have a good starter.
Roaming the show, those starters aren’t just bikes, but displays. Listening in to conversations on the floor, KTM’s transformed and transformer shipping container architecturally redefines the term “booth”, even if the offerings within are largely re-heated or Europe’s year-old hand me downs. White, orange and black, the containers sides fold out into glistening industrial checker-plate floors, awnings can extend for outdoor use, and the top becomes a rooftop deck. The message is a strong, attention grabbing architectural conveyance of the brand’s message, not a convenient to set up pressboard kiosk Hilton. So framed, even the re-heated bikes look new, save for the 990 Adventure in a Baja edition that reads as a desperate colors and kit freshening.
In contrast, surrounded by the on-message white blue and grey, BMW’s new liquid cooled R1200GS for 2013 looks unframed, context-less and under-defined, while Husqvarna seems an awkward adopted teenager wanting to move out of the parent’s house and carve its own definition. Perceptually KTM’s booth has upstaged BMW’s latest R1200GS offering, despite the acute absence of the Austrian firm’s new 1190 Adventure and Adventure R.
There other big wins, namely Honda’s new family of 500cc price point bikes; the CBR500R, the CB500F and CB500X. The display is frugal, but then so are the bikes, signaling a return of Honda to its historical form; fun, friendly and economical value proposition motorcycling. Echoing through time, the precepts of the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign still ring true, holding the company true to its motorcycling roots.
Ducati breaks even. The draw of Monster 20th Anniversary cupcakes and plastic flutes of Champaign is strong, but comes with the onus of sitting though the Italian firms take on the Cheerios from Glee. We’ve seen this show for every birthday, anniversary or special event, it is slick, skin-tight, choreographed and with each renditions slips a little further down the bikes and babes cruiser slope. The company has product to show, the Hypermotard Family and the updated Multistrada, so the jazz hands only distract.
Touratech surprises, trotting out suspension custom designed and manufactured with adventure bikes in mind; heavier built, sprung and valved for a 220 pound rider with luggage and gear rather than a 170 pound waif and 15 pound of luggage. Suddenly BMW owners are looking less longingly at the WP units found on KTMs, if they’ve deep pockets that is.
There are big losses too. The Long Beach IMS has failed to encourage tagging and sharing of social media around the event, starting with the most basic element of promoting a twitter (and other social media) hashtag. The hashtag creates an easy facility for social media consumers and creators to quickly search for the common conversation around an event like this. To market an event without pushing the hashtag vastly reduces the social effectiveness of the conversational media created. Perhaps then, the hashtag epitomizes Marshal McLuhan’s cryptic “the media is the message”, and if the tag is present in the materials it’s elusive.
In an information age, where product information is near instantaneously available as the press releases are sent out, and motorcycle shows are struggling for relevance, facilitating the spread of the message is fundamental. For the brand participating, such a minor change as an event hashtag create and amplify the effect of participation well beyond existing traditional and online media outlets. Once facilitated the consumer’s experience leaps well beyond the opportunity to comparatively try bikes on for size and handle products on an auto-mall styled stadium floor. The consumer becomes the advertiser, without the gloss of marketing spin and tech specs, and represents fierce and huge untapped potential.