Since 1923 BMW has been making motorcycles. Very good motorcycles. So good in fact, that when the Japanese first started moving hard into the higher performance bike market, the bike they dissected wasn’t a Harley- but a BMW.
Unfortunately, BMW Motorrad (that’s the motorcycle division in BMW speak) either:
1) doesn’t get advertising at all, or
2) their agency (that doesn’t get the bike or the rider) has some sort of magic potion that makes the people who approve the ads become stupid.
The BAD BMW motorcycle ad.
The headline in the ad is “You don’t need a hibachi to cook Japanese” the copy that follows is:

“So I’m riding through the city and I pass this guy over the bridge. Apparently, he wasn’t too happy about it because he wound up trying to pass me back. Guess he saw that BMW logo and decided to put me in my place. Well, that didn’t happen. Because I shifted up a gear, flicked the throttle, and there went Mr. Hot Shot Racer Boy, disappearing in my rearview mirror. I guess he didn’t know that I was packing 163 horsepower. But you know what? He knows now.”

This is an ad for a K1200 R- “the most powerful naked bike ever”- you can find out more at (which isn’t working today)- but, here’s what I have to say to the micro-dick copy jock who wrote this ad: you suck.
The K1200 R is a $14,250 MSRP motorcycle. Hardly something that crotch rocket boys can afford- you can buy all kinds of “rice-burners” with splashy graphics, a seat that only someone who doesn’t value their family jewels can love (not saying BMW makes great seats either) and a high pitched whine that makes your head hurt- for about half the price of the K bike. Plus, this isn’t exactly a bike for beginners- no 1200R is.
Now, BMW has a slight problem with their line to begin with- with no true BMW bikes under 1100cc’s (the 650’s are all equipped with a non-BMW engine- and have a totally different feel). So there is no entry-level BMW competition for the crotch rocket crowd. But that shouldn’t stop the agency from understanding who should be interested in this bike- and how to craft the story that goes with it. The agency by the way is Merkley & Partners (who’s lame site fails to list Arby’s as a client since Sept. 2004 (update: Sept. 18 2005- they now list Arby’s and have Arby’s work on the site- too bad they still haven’t redone Arby’s lame site).
Update: Jan 30 2006- Arby’s site STILL SUCKS. But, Merkley and Partners is producing TV spots that cost 100x more than what it would to at least put up something close to relevant to the campaign.
So- what is the answer to this advertising problem? Well, at one time an agency wanted to win the BMW car business, so they sent out disposable cameras to 1000 new owners of Volvo, Mercedes and BMW- and asked them to take pictures of their cars- and send them in. Not a cheap research exercise, but really revealing. When they put the pictures up on the wall, the strategy became clear- and I believe it also applies to the BMW motorcycle messaging.
The photos were amazingly similar:
Volvo owners had pictures of the cars with their kids.
Mercedes pictures all were of the car and the house, on the curved driveway- with people dressed up- and BMW- well, those motorheads all took detail pictures of parts of the car: the BMW roundel, the gearshift knob, the logo on the back of the car, the engine. These people loved the machine. Hence- “the ultimate driving machine” came to be. At least that’s the story as I recall.
Back to the bad bike ads: the tag “the ride is on” means nothing. “The ultimate riding machine” means everything. The BMW riders I know, and the ones I see (when the weathers bad- that’s all I see) ride BMW because it is a technologically superior, reliable, responsive bike with things like ABS brakes and heated handgrips, that are there for one reason and one reason only- the ride. It’s not about being macho; it’s about being a rider who rides, who puts miles on the bike, who does it with style and confidence. Others get it, as evidenced by this dealer site: The BMW site, that’s another matter.
The BMW rider doesn’t need a 100 lbs of chrome to say, “I’m a biker” because they spend more time riding than polishing chrome. Actions speak louder than chrome. Next time you walk by a row of bikes- start looking at odometers, the BMW will be the one with the most miles on the newest bike almost every time.
Most of the time I ride past the rice-burner crotch-rocket crowd, they aren’t even on their bikes, they’re all milling around, posing. I don’t need 163 HP to blow by them; I don’t even need to shift out of second.
This ad, on the inside front cover of Aug 2005 Playboy cost BMW sales. Here was the chance to explain why you don’t need a Harley for your mid-life crisis, you need to say, “I’m sophisticated, I’m different, I’m one who knows the best motorcycle on the planet” instead of screaming, I’m still a little boy with a little penis.
Someone needs to cook some agency creative ass. This ad is an embarrassment, and the dealers deserve better. Never mind the BMW faithful that always have to smile and tell people that BMW has made bikes since 1923, thank you.

What do you think?

added note: BMW (and any other major advertiser) should post their print ads on their web site. This post has been copied into biker forums where it is the subject of much (heated) discussion.
Seems that many “crotch rocket” riders are offended- these are the people that BMW might want to convert one day. Oh yeah, they do like the fact that the bike is popping a wheelie- a totally unsafe and unBMW type riding style.