I REMEMBER growing up watching television commercials that said I’d meet the nicest people on a Honda. (Yes, Honda riders are very nice.)
I spent my early riding years during the resurrection of the Harley-Davidson brand in the late 1980s and early 1990s when every stockbroker was going out and buying an Electra Glide.
Today, we find slick TV ads for the Can-Am Spyder. Action-packed 30-second TV and online spots for ATVs and UTVs. There are more “riding celebrities” and more motorcycles and scooters in commercials than ever before, at least from what I'm seeing.
Kawasaki just announced one of the biggest deals I have witnessed between this industry and Hollywood: a tie-in with the new Johnny Depp movie, “The Lone Ranger.” It’s a sophisticated package that, among many other promotions, includes prize giveaways on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.”
Mind you, this is on the heels of last year’s Ninja takeover of New York City’s Times Square. You can’t say that Chris Brull doesn’t think big — I’m sure the words “Wouldn’t it be great, IF…” are an important part of his working vocabulary.
But nothing quite compares to an endorsement from the Pope.
I imagine the creative team in Milwaukee trying to come up with “something different” for Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary. They list all of the events in which riders participate. One of the most hallowed is the annual blessing of the bikes at Holy Hill, a stunning cathedral and shrine nestled in the Kettle Moraine forest just east of Madison, Wis. (I know it well: as a kid it was a destination for the many boring Sunday drives my parents forced upon us.)
I certainly don’t know how it came about, but I fancy someone sitting in the corner of the conference room, interrupting whatever focus group his colleagues were planning, eyes sparkling and smile widening as he says, “Wouldn’t it be great, IF….”
And it was great, wasn’t it. Regardless of whether you sell Honda, or Victory, or Suzuki, or KYMCO, or whether you’re Catholic, Buddhist or Presbyterian, it was great to have this new, socially engaged head of state and spiritual leader bless the bikes at the Vatican. Because he wasn’t just blessing a brand; he was blessing the rider lifestyle. And he actually looked like he was enjoying himself.
Agencies around the world, I’m sure, are now crafting pitches to get the church to replace communion wine with cranberry juice cocktail or film the Dalai Lama eating pistachios. But it doesn’t matter. Pope Francis blessed the bikes. And in doing so, motorcycling takes a leap forward in the public consciousness. And it’s probably because someone first said, “Wouldn’t it be great, IF…?”
This column originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Dealernews.