"We do see a lot . . . more players and increased advertising, more competitive advertising," said Dean Thompson, senior VP-management supervisor at Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., agency for American Honda Motor Co., the market leader.
Mr. Thompson's client is one of five marketers that dominate the U.S. market, with more than 94% of sales.
In 1997, Honda posted a 27.9% market share, edging out Harley-Davidson Motor Co., with 27.1%, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Yamaha Motor Corp. follows with 13.6%, trailed by Kawasaki Motors Corp. and American Suzuki Motor Corp., both at 13%.
In the first half of 1999, motorcycle sales were up 25% compared with the same period last year, according to that group. This is the second consecutive year of double-digit sales increases, said Beverly St. Clair, managing director of the Motorcycle Industry Council.
That's also pushing motorcycle advertising beyond traditional media -- motorcycle-enthusiast and men's magazines, she said, and into mainstream publications and onto national cable TV.
"I think you're going to see more and more of that," Ms. St. Clair said. "The demand is creating it, which is fantastic."
EXPERIENCE OF MOTORCYCLING
The accelerating market is prompting the No. 6 player, BMW Motorcycles, to ready a national TV campaign of its own. BMW, with a 1.7% market share in 1997, spent $2.6 million in measured media in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
"The general state of the industry is doing well and presents an opportunity for us to make more strides for BMW motorcycles," said Jeff Byers, BMW's marketing and planning manager.
BMW's two 30-second spots have been tested in regional markets and are slated to run nationally in 2000, according to Ed Robinson, VP-motorcycles for the parent, BMW of North America.
The TV commercials, which echo national print ads that BMW has run this year, emphasize the experience of motorcycling. Merkley Newman Harty, New York, handles.
"They're designed to raise overall awareness of BMW Motorcycles," Mr. Robinson said. "I don't think they're sales-action ads. What we're trying to do is build brand awareness over a period of time."
One spot, called "Traffic," is shot in black-and-white and shows frustrated drivers stuck on a gridlocked road, intercut by shots of a motorcyclist maneuvering through the congestion to freedom. The second, "Hamster," cuts between shots of a hamster running inside a plastic exercise ball and a motorcyclist on the open road.
Both end with the word "Ride" flashed on the screen, followed by the word "Motorcycles" and the BMW logo.
"We wanted to change the way we advertise, making it less corporation-to-consumer and more authentic rider-to-rider," said Mr. Byers.
The TV medium lends itself to the emotional appeal BMW wants to make, allowing the company to show rider's-eye views in "Hamster," Mr. Robinson noted.
Kerri Martin, BMW's brand and event marketing manager, said the increase in cable channels over the past decade has made TV practical for a niche product such as motorcycles.
In addition, BMW can now post technical data on the Web, keeping its print and TV advertising focused on the emotional appeal, which, said Mr. Robinson, is the key to selling motorcycles in the U.S.
"What we have to remember is that no one in America rides because they have to," he said.
That makes motorcycle advertising a tricky blend, said Ian McIlvaine, management supervisor at Suzuki agency Colby Effler & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif.
"Given that it is such an enthusiast pursuit, I think it strikes a balance between emotional and rational appeals," Mr. McIlvaine said. "Motorcycles are basically luxury items. They're not necessities."
But, he said, that doesn't mean they can be sold entirely as luxuries. Owners often "will give you lots of rational reasons why they bought the motorcycle," he said.
CYCLE SALES RISE
Ms. St. Clair said the upswing in sales largely has been fueled by baby-boomers who are either taking up motorcycles for the first time or returning to the pursuit after a long absence.
Sales have been going up for seven years, emerging from a downward trend in the 1980s, she said. During that period, boomers were establishing careers and raising children, often discarding their motorcycles.
The typical owner is 38, has attended college, has a family and an income of $44,250, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. The percentage of women owners has risen from 6.4% to 8.2% in the 1990s, and represent one-third of the graduates of motorcycle-safety classes for new riders, said Ms. St. Clair.
Mr. Thompson said Honda is particularly encouraged by family off-road riding; smaller trail bikes are a good way to attract younger riders, he said. In many cases, boomer parents are introducing the sport to their children.
Honda, which runs TV spots on cable channels such as Speedvision, spent $10.6 million in measured media in 1998, per CMR.
Suzuki will break its model-year 2000 print advertising soon, said Gareth Smith, account supervisor for Colby Effler. Ads will run in enthusiast, men's and outdoor magazines.
Suzuki, which spent $4.4 million in measured media in 1998, also uses outdoor in key seasons and sponsors the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego.
KAWASAKI TARGETS WOMEN
Mr. McIlvaine said marketing approaches vary by styles of bikes. Sales of sport bikes, which are street-legal versions of racing bikes, fluctuate with the fortunes of Suzuki's racing team, he said.
"What wins on the track has a lot to do with what we see buyers buy at retail," Mr. McIlvaine said. "We very much leverage factory racing performance."
Sport buyers are adept riders with a strong knowledge of product specs, he said, while riders of larger touring bikes like comfort and options like rider-passenger intercoms for long trips. Owners of cruisers -- factory-made descendants of laid-back choppers -- are more interested in personalizing bikes with accessories, Mr. McIlvaine said.
Although it offers a broad line, Kawasaki is especially targeting women, said Sheryl Bussard, marketing-media manager.
The company sent a survey to 200,000 women riders that drew a strong response, she said.
"People were so excited," Ms. Bussard said. "I was getting phone calls. They are so anxious to be heard."
Kawasaki also has done brochures for women with the slogan, "The show's much better when you're sitting up front."
Bob Moffitt, the marketer's VP of motorcycle manufacturing, is interviewed in the current issue of a women-motorcyclists' magazine, Asphalt Angels.
While recognizing that the great majority of riders are male, Ms. Bussard said, Kawasaki is seeing some of its models selling to nearly 40% women.
"The reason we're targeting women is that we've been looking at our own