It's a rare region of the U.S. consumer market that doesn't have at least a few agencies hard at work figuring out how to get their products on the consideration list of younger Hispanic and African-American consumers. But if that terra incognita exists, it's probably somewhere in the world of motorcycle marketing. That's partly because, for motorcycle makers, the culture is the bike: when you get a motorcycle you swing a leg over it and emigrate to a nation with its own culture, language, rules, passport.
Bike subcultures, from a market-activation perspective, are touchy ideas and very strongly defined by segment -- especially the cruiser motorcycle segment, into which marketers inject just about all of their lifestyle and self-identity messaging. For categories like dirt bikes and sport bikes, it's about the machine.
Consider sport bikes for a moment and one can see why motorcycle makers might be a bit, um, reticent about focusing on anything beyond the bike itself and how well it rides. These machines have become a lot closer to racing bikes over the years. Many are very high-performance machines with big displacement and ergonomics informed more by the necessities of track racing than street riding (the drop-bar positioning means the rider is prone for aerodynamics, not upright for awareness, etc.). And their combo of sexiness, testosterone, performance, and derring-do appeals to younger riders. You don't have to be a genius to see where that road leads. Anyway, the bikes speak for themselves -- why muck up the business with pop-culture activation. Leave that to cars, right?
Not for Suzuki Motorcycles. The company has been rethinking that notion when it comes to its sport bike lineup by pitching directly to the multicultural, urban market melting pot with an integrated marketing program around music and street culture that is more like the kind of marketing automakers have been doing for brands like Scion and Honda Civic than anything motorcycle makers have ever done.
The effort, Busa Beats (BusaBeats.com), via AOR San Francisco-based digital agency Questus, centers on a social media hub and virtual recording studio for would-be rappers to choose from an array of beats to use as backing tracks for their own rhymes. The point of it all is that the best rhyme-smith wins a Suzuki Hayabusa sport bike. The catch is that the rhymes have to be about the Hayabusa (thus "BusaBeats").
The competition, which is heading into its third year, culminates in a virtual "MC Battle" with winners chosen by popular vote and a panel of MC (not "motorcycle club") judges. The winner also appears at Suzuki events across the country, and in one case went on to sign a record deal.
Questus founding partner Jeff Rosenblum says the ultimate goal is to reach a discrete audience, "and communicate with them in way that's more emotionally driven than any way spoken before by bike manufacturers. This is different in a lot of ways from how motorcycle manufacturers tend to treat audiences -- namely in a monolithic way, by market segment," he says.
Rosenblum says that next year, the focus of the campaign will be less on the Hayabusa and more on the GSX-R ("Jixer" in the parlance), which has, in recent years, replaced the Hayabusa as the sport bike icon of the brand.
"Thus in promoting the Hayabusa we are believers in immersion, going to events, studying social media -- everything you can do. Second, always challenge what you hear from the client. Usually they are right, but not always. Bikes are not just about performance, but also about an emotional connection. It's about how we make that connection," says Rosenblum.
A customized version of the bike is the grand prize. But the win for Suzuki is the media play. Rosenblum says Busa Beats has racked up over 800 custom songs about the Hayabusa motorcycle with over 200,000 plays and an average of eight minutes on site listening to the songs and 21 minutes during the battle.
"All the guys who made songs generated earned media on the social Web, with people listening and being driven back to the main hub. We had this year over 200,000 plays of all the songs and over 21 minutes spent on site during the heat of battle," he says, adding that since there is no cash reward -- just the bike -- there is a built-in demographic and psychographic filter: you have to be interested in sport bikes.
He says the campaign has paid off in buzz and opinion of the brand. "What we do is compare paid media to positive social sentiment," says Rosenblum. "After this campaign there was a very high degree of positive sentiment about Suzuki in social-media spaces."