Archive for the ‘Media’ category

Harley’s lost generations: Failure to reinvent loses the After Boomers

November 19, 2009

The After Boomers—Gens X and the older Ys grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Knight Rider and Star Trek and X-Men on TV and Star Wars and Matrix in theaters. They began by playing Sonic the Hedgehog and ended by playing Grand Theft Auto, Gran Tourismo and Wii Sports. Athletes and Rock Stars were their heroes. While their parents listened to hard rock, they listen to rap. The Boomers had Easy Rider where the (extensively customized) Harley is ridden by the hero. The After Boomers had Biker Boyz where the Harleys are ridden by the villains and The Long Way Round where the heroes rode BMWs.

Same Themes

Rap and hip hop seems a world apart from heavy metal—but Buddy Holly rocked his generation—and Swing rocked that generation.

In current affairs, instead of JFK’s assassination, this group had 9/11. Instead of Vietnam, they have Iraq. Instead of the Cold War, they have terrorism and terrorists give the entertainment media the same class of “bad guys” as the old Soviet regime.

The way motorcycles are used in movies including the two mentioned above are not essentially different than the way their parents and grandparents saw motorcycles in movies: There’s still the lone hero fighting against a world organized against him in which s/he alone had to solve the problems and achieve glory. For example: the Mission Impossible movies (and MI II had that prolonged motorcycle chase/battle); the Matrix trilogy with its use of motorcycles;  and Laura Croft riding a motorcycle through her house fighting the bad guys. And it’s still about freedom and finding yourself and being comfortable being unlike others: Boomers had the ultimate road movie—Easy Rider. But The Long Way Round is a road movie as documentary with two young men taking that search globally with a lot more acceptance and a lot less drama.

Iow, it’s the old “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. The same kind of influences and forces that make motorcycling naturally attractive to a given percentage of people in each generation are still present today as it was in the past. This suggests that there is a substantial number of After Boomers that are primed to ride at some point in that life cycle discussed in the last entry.

But Different

But what did change changed everything: Instead of The Donna Reed Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Wonder Woman and Supergirl culminating with the television series Charlie’s Angels, this time there was a plethora of women starting with Cagney and Lacey and women like Laura Croft and Xena and Trinity of Matrix fame—and Charlie’s Angels again. The After Boomers grew up with women—as well as men—being the lone hero.  African-Americans had plenty of highly visible role models who were the lone hero in pursuit of personal freedom as well—and some of them like—Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan—rode motorcycles.

And while their parents suffered the loss of production jobs and outsourcing, these generations grew up in a service industry where globalization was the norm and their homes are filled with products with foreign brand names made overseas by multinational companies.

Fast, flexible, speed is valued—and expected: In other more essential ways when it comes to motorcycles, it’s a different—digital, wireless—age. Now communication is instantaneous and global—internet, cell phones, texting, wii—all these things emphasized speed, responsiveness, dexterity and flexibility. And that’s the same theme in both movies and television—and in business and current affairs.

And that underscored what they learned from video games—even ones like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Brothers as children: the prize goes to the aggressive, the one who can decide and act with speed and daring and take risks. Iow, the qualities Forbes associated with the Harley had spread to even childhood games.

Risk Perception: At the same time understanding of risk had changed in two polar opposite ways:

This is the bicycle helmet generation: Boomer parents were schooled to believe danger is everywhere and real or perceived risks were to be both avoided and protected against. After Boomers, as a general rule, been sheltered from risk and even discomfort. For example, they’re been strapped into infant seats, youth seats then seat belts from birth.[i] They’ve been  driven to school to avoid taking the bus; few play outside unsupervised and they’ve been taught to look at strangers with fear. And when it comes to educational and other achievements, failure is negated and everything is awarded.

On the other hand, video games teach them to take extraordinary risks to win—but the risks are unreal. They erase failure with a reset button and get ahead by finding shortcuts. And while the “risks” seem to be enormous—extreme violence and speed—there are no real consequences to them; they emerge unscathed no matter what they do.

As a general rule, then, After Boomers have been protected from the consequences of their choices and actions by their parents and the culture while being encouraged to take extraordinary risks that have no real consequences.

Primed to ride—but not Harleys

Iow, the stage is set for a future boom cycle in several essential ways while attitudes towards risk and consequence have changed in negative ways.[ii]

The only problem is that it wasn’t Harleys that were the iron stars in these movies or on television or video games. Instead it’s the sport bike that’s lionized—and it was men and women on sport bikes that these After Boomers saw doing courageous man-of-action things at speed.

Otoh, cruisers and street bikes were ridden by villains—and the one percenter image was still regularly employed. Or they were ridden by middle-aged (staid) (white) men—the most recent example being the oncologist on Brothers and Sisters who’s idea of risk is to date Sally Field’s much older character. Iow, Harley’s entertainment media presence is either the outlaw or the RUB.

Sport bikes, then, are associated with the young, lone hero out to change the world and the cruiser/street bike with the middle-aged, upper-income male—one who is almost always white.

Take a look at the Motorcycle Riding Celebrities list and the sea change in celebrity riding Harleys is overwhelming: Celebrities like Schwarzenegger, Axel Rose, Billy Ray Cyrus and David Hasselhoff do have H-Ds. But more high-profile celebs like George Clooney own an H-D but own one or more other marques.

However, more and more contemporary celebrities don’t own a Harley at all. Like Bono on a Ducati, Jessica Alba on a Kawasaki, Michael Jordan on a BMW, Sheryl Crowe on a KTM. Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Ewan McGregor are like many younger celebrities and are multi-brand owners: M-V Augusta, BMW, Triumph, Honda, Suzuki or Ducati. The range of marques is quite impressive—as is the absence of Harleys for younger owners.

In fact, it’s startling how old most of the H-D celebrity owners on the list are—and it’s also surprising how many Harley celebs are now in the  “Huh, I thought they were dead” list or “People You Expect to See on Dancing With the Stars” list.

Whether H-D didn’t pursue a product placement strategy or whether it did and were turned down, the net result is that Harleys are associated with a kind of bike that the young associate with the old and irrelevant. Nor did Harley get hot young game designers to create an exciting video game. In no way did Harley engage young men—and women—in the ways that they found exciting and fresh.

No dirt bike Since dirt biking as children and teens is one of the ways new riders enter into street riding either as young adults or as middle-aged people, marques that have dirt bikes built brand memory—and perhaps brand loyalty—in Gen X and Y. Harley did not develop a dirt bike and surrendered a rich branding opportunity. Perhaps it was twice-burned, quadruple shy after its lamentable efforts to expand into snowmobiles and lawnmowers, but it was a regrettable marketing mistake.

Harley is the motorcycle Oldsmobile A few years ago Oldsmobile found itself in the same position as H-D: the young avoided the make like the plague. In an attempt to counter that, Oldsmobile ran a series of commercials that bluntly said it “wasn’t your father’s car” anymore. And that’s the problem with Harleys: a great many After Boomers identify the marque with their parents. In urban areas, at least, it just ain’t cool for someone under 30 to ride a Harley.

Fashion forward rather than fashion backward Nor does the classic cruiser/street/custom style of motorcycle appeal to most After Boomers. Harley specializes in motorcycles that do not look significantly different than those of decades ago. Otoh, sport bikes are much closer stylistically to what’s contemporary in electronics. Harleys, otoh, are so last decade and of a piece with a camera that uses actual film, or phones with a corded handset, desktop computers and land lines.

The After Boomers’ image of Harley is neatly summed up in the South Park episode “The F Word”.

Where the word “fag” is redefined to stand for Harley riders: “Fag. n. 1. An extremely annoying, inconsiderate person most commonly associated with Harley riders. 2. A person who owns or frequently rides a Harley.”

And that’s really bad news for Harley’s short and long-term prospects. As I wrote about in a prior entry, brands have life cycles and unless brand managers can reinvent it for a new age, it suffers.[iii]

Harley thought the V-Rod and then the Street Rod was reinventing the brand—but the styling was still too much like Old Harley. Harley completely missed why even middle-aged women want to ride and how to attract them let alone offer a compelling image to younger women. And it failed to offer a way for other minorities to feel comfortable in what appeared to be a very white—and very exclusive—world of fellowship.

Research also indicates that brands do have generational baggage.[iv] As a Seeking Alpha entry said, “…in the U.S. the number of consumers will continue to grow until at least 2025 thanks to Generation Y…. We believe this supports our view that the U.S. economy is not ending, but changing. Companies that became fat and happy catering to Boomer demand from 1980 to 2000 need to understand that in many cases this demand is no longer there. Why? Because the generational landscape has changed and will continue to change between now and 2025.”

The writer went on to say, “We strongly suspect that those companies that are aware of this shift in demand, and are catering to it, will become the next “Stock Market Darlings.” As opposed to those whose executives are scratching their heads and wondering where their customers (the Boomers) have gone. Currently, for example, “Value” teenage retailers are enjoying the increasing demand of the price-conscious Generation Y, who are flocking to their stores, while car manufactures keep trying to design, or in most cases re-design, the perfect car for the disappearing Boomer.”

Substitute Harley for “car manufacturers” and perfect motorcycle for “perfect car” and that describes Harley for the past decade and in the future. And Seeking Alpha agreed:  “And among those which seem to be unaware of any generational shifting in the U.S. consumer base would have to include: General Motors Inc.,Harley Davidson Motorcycles Inc. (HOG), Wal Mart (WMT) and Wendys/Arby’s Group Inc. (WEN).”

Whether it was fear of losing the base or being unimaginative, Harley-Davidson has failed the challenge for the past decade by delivering basically the same bikes year after year while ignoring what was exciting and attracting After Boomers. It did not reinvent the brand—and unless it finds a way to do so, it has doomed itself to an increasingly shrinking market until someone in Milwaukee figures out how to do so—or years down the road, consumers find a way to reinvent this particular style of motorcycle.

Otoh, it did have Buell—while it had the negative of being “half a Harley” with its engine, it had innovative and cutting edge technology and styling. It is a sport bike and it had the right kind of styling—and as reported before—it was growing even as Harley shipments were shrinking. So Harley’s best chance of capturing After Boomers has been “discontinued” in one of the most blundering, short-sighted and idiotic management decisions in USA corporation history.

It is doubtful, then, given all the reasons above, that Harley will bounce back once the recession is over. While the Motor Company was already facing the difficulty of producing too expensive motorcycles when the majority of new riders would be in their cheap bike stage, the definitive H-D styling is unappealing as is the lifestyle of the H-D rider. In every way, then, the next 20 years of riders will not find Harley’s a natural choice in their natural riding life cycle. Unless Harley finds a way to reinvent itself and make the iconic brand speak in fresh exciting ways to these digital, wireless, social networking generations.


[i] And since they grew up with car seats, seat belts and bicycle helmets, motorcycle helmets don’t have the same meaning it does to the 40+ cruiser rider. It is likely that the future boom riders, like the current crop of sport/sport-tourer/adventure riders, will wear helmets. Which is not to say the death toll will rise any less precipitously nor as high next boom cycle.

 

[ii] Except Gen X and Yers, having been strapped in since birth and used to wearing helmets may be more likely to choose to wear motorcycle helmets.

[iii] Holt, Douglas B. How Brands Become Icons. Harvard Business School Press. Boston, MA. 2004.

[iv] “The Future of U.S. Consumer Spending: It’s a Generational Thing”, Seeking Alpha. Posted, October 22, 2009. http://seekingalpha.com/article/168342-the-future-of-u-s-consumer-spending-it-s-a-generational-thing?source=yahoo.

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This is what I’m talking about

May 5, 2009

On Saturday at about 5:30 p.m. 56 year-old Anita Zaffke was on her way home and sitting at a stop light on her Honda Shadow at a light at Old McHenry Road on Rte. 12 in Lake Zurich, IL. It’s a four-lane divided highway. She was wearing a reflective jacket and a helmet, according to this article on the Chicago CBS site.

Neither jacket nor helmet helped her, though, when 48 year-old Lora Hunt driving an Impala rammed into the back of Zaffke’s bike. Hunt had been painting her nails and admitted she wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the bike or the stop light.

Zaffke’s bike was hit so hard she and the bike flew 200 feet down the road. Her spine was fractured and she died an hour later in the hospital of multiple chest and abominal injuries.

Hunt got a ticket for failing to reduce speed to avoid a crash. It’s a misdemeanor.

This crash got me thinking of how three riders–including Jeff Brenton who teaches in the NIU region of the Illinois Motorycle Rider Program, iirc–all were hot to stress how it’s the rider’s responsibility to ride safe. And I’m sure that some riders would find fault with Zaffke and suggest she should’ve done this or should’ve done that. And maybe she could’ve, I don’t know. The fact remains, Hunt was painting her fingernails and had she been paying attention, Zaffke wouldn’t have been hit.

So this press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:

TDOS Joins Agencies to Urge Drivers & Riders to “Share the Road”

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month & National Bicycle Month

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Safety has teamed up with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, the Motorcycle Awareness Foundation of Tennessee, the Tennessee Truckers Association, the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Walk/Bike Nashville and the Murfreesboro Police Department to encourage motorcycle riders, bicyclists and drivers to “Share the Road.” May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and National Bicycle Month, and to kick it off, the agencies hosted a safety festival Saturday, May 2, 2009, at Bumpus Harley Davidson in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

“As the weather improves, more and more motorcyclists and bicyclists are hitting the roads. With that in mind, drivers of all vehicles need to be extra attentive and make sure they “Share the Road,’” said Department of Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell. “Motorcycles and bicycles are some of the smallest vehicles on our roads, often hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot, so everyone needs to really look out for them.”

Motorcycle fatalities nationwide have steadily increased over the past decade. In Tennessee, the number of motorcyclists killed in crashes jumped from 42 in 1998 to 143 in 2008. Statistics for 2000-2008 and a list of Motorcycle Safety Tips are attached to this release.

“This steady increase over the past decade represents one of our greatest highway safety challenges,” said Governor’s Highway Safety Office Director Kendell Poole. “When you consider that one out of every seven deadly crashes last year involved a motorcycle rider, it is clear that drivers need to be extra cautious.”

Motorcyclists and bicyclists have responsibilities too. Riders must follow the rules of the road and always wear protective gear.   More than 300,000 Tennesseans are licensed to operate motorcycles. Tennessee law requires that they, and their passengers, wear approved helmets and protective eyewear.

“Motorcyclists must understand that riding a motorcycle is different than driving a car,” said John Milliken, the state coordinator of Tennessee’s Motorcycle Rider Education Program. “Motorcyclists are much more vulnerable than passenger vehicle occupants in the event of a crash. It is imperative that they educate themselves by taking an accredited training course and never ride beyond their skill ability.”

The Department of Safety’s Motorcycle Rider Education Program approves courses and instructors across the state. To find out more about the program, go to: http://tennessee.gov/safety/mrep.htm.

The mission of the Motorcycle Awareness Foundation of Tennessee (MAFT) is to remind drivers to stay alert for the less visible motorcycles on the roadways. “More than half of all motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle, so all drivers must be aware of motorcyclists,” stated MAFT State Coordinator, Bob Edwards. “We also want to remind riders that they should always ride defensively and within their own limits.”  To find out more information about the MAFT, go to www.maft.us.

At the event, the Tennessee Truckers Association set up its “No Zone” truck to illustrate the importance of being visible while riding or driving near tractor-trailers. TDOS set up a safety course for motorcyclists, and many of them participated in a ride Saturday afternoon from Bumpus Harley Davidson to Lynchburg, TN.

The Tennessee Department of Safety’s mission is (www.tennessee.gov/safety) to ensure the safety and general welfare of the public. The department encompasses the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security and Driver License Services. General areas of responsibility include law enforcement, safety education, motorist services and terrorism prevention.


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This press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:


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This press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:

This press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:

This press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:

is press release out of Tennessee is what I think motorcycle rights activists wanted Motorcycle Awareness Month to do. It equally addresses the issues and problems for both other road users and riders:

Motorcycle Awareness Month–same old, same old

May 1, 2009

And once again, too much of the coverage makes it appear it’s our fault. Here’s one story “CHP launches new safety campaign”that aired on the LA ABC station yesterday.

Though it’s supposedly about the CHP, it’s the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s views that dominates the clip and MSF’s Rob Gladden that does most of the talking—and expostulates MSF’s views:

For example, he says, “Because people who are either self-taught or taught by friends and family are over-represented in crash statistics year after year.” However, there’s absolutely no evidence that this is true—and abundant evidence that MSF’s brand of training isn’t effective and increases a rider’s risk of crashing.

The reporter brings up wearing protective gear at all times and then goes on to say, “Notice that these students in a safety class are covered head to toe. Warm weather might make a ride to the beach inviting but taking a spill in things like shorts and flip-flops could mean a painful trip to the ER.”

However, what students are required to wear in “safety classes” would do virtually no better at preventing that trip to the ER. Only over-the-ankle boots and full-fingered gloves would be better at preventing injuries than the long-sleeve shirt and long pants required for class and the shorts and t-shirt cited in the story.

That the reporter mentions “protective gear” and “safety classes” and shows what the students are wearing smakes it appear that clothes that would last less than a few seconds in a fall are both safe and protective–when they aren’t.

Otoh, one thing that year after year has been found to be true: over half of all riders die in multi-vehicle collisions and, in a preponderance of cases, it’s the driver and not the rider who is at-fault. But, as in other years, MSF gives short shrift to what drivers should do. The reporter says, “And since everyone needs to share the road safety experts have tips for drivers as well. This is all Gladden had to say about them, “If you’re startled by a motorcycle coming up upon you, chances are it’s been approaching for several seconds. So use those mirrors and pay attention to motorcycles, look for them,” said Gladden.

This almost all the CHP had to say about motorcycle awareness: the reporter says, “Nice weather in Southern California and motorcyclists on the road are almost a foregone conclusion, but crashes don’t have to be” and the shot cuts to CHP Commissioner Farrow, “They can be prevented. With proper equipment, proper training, and proper rules of the road, following those rules, I think we’ll be okay.”

It sounds far too much like it’s the motorcyclist’s fault if they aren’t ok.