Kawasaki takes a 'big swing' with NYC event

Publish Date: 
Sep 17, 2012
By Mary Green Slepicka

KAWASAKI IN MID-SEPTEMBER took a giant leap forward by rolling out the new Ninja 300 and the ZX-6R in a high-profile, day long “Takeover” of New York’s Times Square.

The debut started with a Sept. 12 evening preview for press only in a trendy little showroom in New York’s Fashion District. The public cotillion would start the morning of Sept. 13.

The “Takeover” was just that – a massive sea of green on the west side of Times Square between 46th and 48th Streets. The OEM didn’t close off any portion of Times Square save for a place to corral about 60 sportbikes belonging to the customers and dealers taking part in the day’s ride-in and ride-out. Nope; people were invited to walk by, stop, gawk at the bikes (and some of the people), get an autograph from a Kawi racer or VIPs Jason Britton and Rickey Gadson (see image, below), nab some swag, and enter for a drawing to win one of two motorcycles to be given away at the conclusion of the event that evening. (For more images from the event, visit Dealernews' Facebook page.)

It was a bold strategy for one of the Big Four, usually accustomed to hosting private events for dealers and then rolling out its message to consumers via traditional media. Instead, Kawasaki took its message to the masses in one of the most crowded places in the United States – Midtown Manhattan, filled with workers, tourists, fashionistas, sportbikers and enthusiast wannabes (plus the occasional passers-by who wanted to see what the fuss was about).

The main stage/entertainment area was positioned right at the Times Square bleachers where many tourists line up to get same-day tickets to theater events in the evening. Had Kawasaki held its event in, say, the roomier (and definitely more pleasing) Central Park, it would have looked lovely but would have failed to attract the thousands it needed to project its reach. Besides, Times Square has a Jumbotron, of which the OEM took full advantage. When the countdown to the 1:45 p.m. unveiling was posted and the (yes, I’ll admit it) stunning Ninja video launched, not all stopped… but I bet most looked up.

And that’s what marketing director Chris Brull was counting on. “We want people to see the side of the brand they never get to see,” he told me. “This was our opportunity to raise mass awareness quickly.” Using a baseball analogy, he said, “We need to take a big swing.”

Executing the logistics of an event like this isn’t easy. I'm assuming Brull was able to use the funds the OEM otherwise would have put toward an in-person dealer meeting this year. But dealing with the City of New York is a job and a half. The event actually had been scheduled for Sept. 4, Brull told me; but five weeks out the Mayor’s office canceled the Ninja event, saying that the city needed to clear its calendar on the chance that the Democratic National Convention would be moved at the last minute from Charlotte. So the event moved to Fashion Week – suitable for high styling inherent to the sportbike market.

While the event received quite a bit of coverage from industry media as well as New York student and tourist websites, I would have thought that the morning network news shows or their local affiliates would have joined in the fun. Maybe New Yorkers are accustomed to such overtures. Still, it would have provided more of a national media blitz.

Now it’s up to the dealers. They received their POP items in the weeks preceding the event, and many of whom streaming the Times Square party live in their stores. Brull said that the OEM is deploying its district managers to Kawi dealerships to deliver more intense, consultative sales training on the new Ninja line. Kawasaki introduced the new models in high profile; follow-through at the retail level will be critical to moving units out the door.

At the Times Square Takeover, all of the Kawasaki employees were running around, wearing new black and bright green Ninja shirts with badges identifying them only as “VIP” or “Corporate.” Looking on, clad in dark-colored suits and ties, were the corporate executives from Japan. I have no doubt they were calculating the return on investment.