Mass Media Motorcycle Marketing

One of the more intriguing facets of my job is that I am often called upon to take on projects that are, in all likelihood,… an utter and complete waste of time. There is sound reasoning behind this.

When a new idea comes along that looks like it has a snowball’s chance in Hell of going anywhere, it makes sense to throw at it the person whose purpose it is to look into new ideas and to be somewhat of a loose cannon in the organization. At least that is how I choose to look at it. This makes far more sense than using the time of a person who job responsibilities are more codified. And in fact there are several potential positive outcomes.

First of all, having worked in the motorsports business for 13 years, the past 11 of them full time, most of my knowledge of both the industry and of what works and does not work have come from looking into projects that at first seemed to fall on a vector of odd to completely nutso, Secondly, I have met many interesting people and developed relationships that have come in handy for other projects and other uses. Last, there are occasions where the new idea is actually workable, or can be modified to make it utile.

The only area where I’ve had little success and where my time has for the most time been well and truly wasted is in the field of mass media marketing. Ironically, it is from this field that most of the requests to waste my time come from. It seems like every fresh faced new ad salesperson for either a radio or TV station or a newspaper is just sure that a campaign run through them will result in massive sales increases for the dealership.

I have never spent time with one of these people who had the slightest knowledge of how the motorcycle business works. Most of them did not feel they needed any actual knowledge. They all presume that the advertising needs (and budget) of a motorcycle dealer are similar to those of a car dealer. This is similar to saying that your household budget for toilet paper would equate to the total sum spent on arms by all US defense forces in a year.

For about 9 years I used each interview with an ad rep to patiently explain the facts of motorcycle marketing life. I must have been channeling my previous profession of teacher and getting psychic rewards for “teaching.”

To be fair, I have occasionally seen an ad placed with a newspaper, and also seen ads placed with radio stations or on TV. Since I wrote or created them, I have full confidence they were brilliant! But alas, none really worked that I could see by sales or dealership visits.

Eventually I began to think that almost all mass media ads for motorcycle dealerships are a waste of time and money, unless the owner wishes to have the ego boost of seeing his or her (or their) dealership on TV or in the paper or talked about on the radio. I don’t say that to be snide, because if you own a business and have worked hard to make it succeed, I think that is a valid rationale to place the ad. It also builds some name recognition – but as an expenditure to build sales and/or profits (not the same) it does not make sense.

Eventually the penny dropped and I came up with a better plan. When I receive a phone call or e-mail from a mass marketing “expert,” I first respond with a mildly or not edited version of the missive below. That allows us to either not have a meeting at all, or at least to have a discussion that is interesting and might actually create an idea.

Here is what I send:

I’ve spent many happy hours with radio and TV ad reps, and the proposals offered always fall short – by a very long way – due to these factors.

1. Although Ride West BMW sales usually rank in the top 5 of BMW dealerships nationally, we do not sell that many motorcycles. Any car dealership sells more cars in their worst month than we do in a full year, so ad budgets are slim to (usually) none for motorcycle dealerships.

2. 3% of the public actually own motorcycles, compared to the 75% that say they are interested. Ownership “soars” to perhaps 5% in boom years – which we are not in. For every 1,000 people media ads reach, we are really only talking to 30 of them. Of those 30, how many are in the market for a first or new or additional motorcycle – 10%? Now we’re talking to 3 people.

3. BMW usually garners about 1% of total sales, so let’s add used sales and get up to a whopping total of 10%. Now I am spending X dollars per ad to speak to 1/3 of one person. Doesn’t pencil. As has been pointed out, at times dealerships can use OEM “Co-op” funds to pay for ads. However, the rate rarely rises to, not to mention above, 50% for an ad specific to one dealer. Even at 50% it is hard to make the ads look like a sound investment.

4. Another problem this year is that BMW did not manufacture enough motorcycles and we have done a great job, leading to – we have almost none left! Weird, I know. More are coming, and we may want to places ads some day – if we come up with a rational way to get past #1-3 above.

Not to be brutal or negative, but I don’t want to waste your time. I worked for Cycle Barn for ten years (when Cycle Barn was HUGE and sold 5 brands) and we rarely placed radio ads and when we did they never worked. Ride West is a fraction of that size and only sells one brand. I’ve never placed a radio or TV ad for Ride West, and doubt I would get approval for one. …unless you have a really new and cool idea!

David Preston
Manager – Media and Events
Ride West BMW

At least now I do not feel I am wasting the time of the ad person or myself, and occasionally a good idea emerges, or at least a valid conversation.

Copyright Dave Preston 2011

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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