In order to boost awareness of its cruiser bikes line, Honda Motorcycles is launching its largest marketing push this year. The effort is a departure for the brand, which tends to focus motorcycle advertising on specific models. It is also a departure in that it focuses as much on the rider as an idealized freedom seeker, as on the bikes.

Rider-centric motorcycle advertising isn’t new; it’s been used by Harley-Davidson, BMW and others, in ads for cruisers and touring motorcycles. Honda is No. 2 in cruisers behind Harley-Davidson, which has dominated the U.S. cruiser market for years.

However, import brands have moved aggressively in the past two years to garner more attention. Yamaha and Suzuki have launched cruiser sub-brands—Star and Boulevard, respectively—and supported them with ad campaigns. Suzuki last year launched an ad campaign for its SUVs that also shows off its cruisers and sport bikes.

Lee Edmunds, Honda’s advertising manager for motorcycles, says Honda isn’t looking to create its own cruiser marquee, although the new unified campaign launching in April is intended to build awareness for Honda’s VTX and Shadow series cruisers by uniting them under a single emotional banner.

The integrated effort via Dailey and Associates Advertising, L.A. is one of two forthcoming efforts—Honda is also revving a push for its sport bikes. The cruiser campaign includes print, TV, Internet and events.

Cinematic gatefold print ads to run in enthusiast magazines and lifestyle books feature a single rider with huge, red, angelic wings, standing before a bleak, gray, Orwellian landscape of snarled traffic, gas station lines and urban roadways. The second page shows the same rider, as well as a Honda cruiser. Text is a recitation of the liberating joys of motorcycling.

One of the ads reads "Free yourself from," then offers a list of things like rush hours that don’t; claustrophobia; 20-gallon fill-ups; the wash special with air freshener; bringing home the dry cleaning. Internet ads and TV, which will be shot this week, will complement the print ads.

"It speaks to an even broader audience about motorcycling. The idea is to try to evoke that emotional connection riders have to motorcycling," says Edmunds. "It’s different from other advertising in that it doesn’t feature a big hero image of the bike. It features a rider, a mood. It’s about the freedom you feel when you’re on a bike."

The cruiser market was flat last year, but Edmunds says that after over a decade of year-over-year growth, sales are strong. "The market is very healthy right now, not only in [motorcycles], but in accessories."


Anthony Kodack
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