Leader of the pack?

Leader of the pack?

The image of a horde of leather-clad Hell's Angels roaring through the countryside on Harley Davidsons is hardly representative of your average motorcyclist.

Indeed, rather than the stereotypical bearded attitude-merchant called "Diesel", the British biker is more likely to be a teacher called Alan, with a wife, two kids and a cheeky Labrador called Rusty.

Emap Automotive, which has Motor Cycle News, Ride and Performance Bikes in its portfolio, says the typical owner of a 500cc-plus motorbike is a 41-year-old affluent male. And a third of them are AB in profile.

At the latest count, there were about 1.5 million owners of two-wheelers in the UK, providing a lucrative audience for motorcycling magazines, live events and TV channels. And their numbers are growing - an average of 85,000 people per year have passed their motorcycle test over the past four years.



Gareth Ashman, sales director for MCN, says there has been a misconception about who motorcyclists are, but advertisers are finally realising that it is a lucrative audience.

"The perception is that motorcyclists are a bit grubby and backstreet. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are more upmarket than your average man in the street."

The core advertisers in the motorcycling press are bike and accessory manufacturers but magazines have enjoyed some success in attracting lifestyle advertisers. Emap has struck deals with Remington and Ben Sherman.

However, the fact that almost 90% of bike magazine readers are men limits the scope for unisex advertising.

Motorcycling magazines can be split into further niches. There are hardcore biker magazines like Back Street Heroes and Easyriders, many of which are imported from the US; classic motorcycle titles such as Classic Bike; and sports magazines like Speedway Star and Motocross Action.

However, the vast majority of sales are of general interest magazines. The biggest selling title is Motor Cycle News, which has a circulation of 141,914 (ABC Jan-Dec 2002). Emap is the dominant player in the marketplace (its portfolio also includes Bike, the sector's second-biggest seller), but there is also a presence from Haymarket (Two Wheels Only) and IPC (Superbike).

There is also a lucrative buying and selling market - half a million bikes changed hands last years alone - with Trader Media's Bike Trader and Emap's MCN Bikemart fighting it out for the classifieds.


Preaching to the converted

When it comes to selecting which media to use, Scott Grimsdall, media relations executive for Honda UK, admits specialist motorcycling magazines are the best bet. "Their main strength is that they allow us to preach to the converted," he says.

"Different magazines target different motorcycling sectors so we can target specific publications for specific models."

Two Wheels Only is one of the latest entrants to the motorcycling magazine market. It was launched in April 2001 by a team of ex-Superbike employees and was snapped up by Haymarket in December 2002.

It is now benefiting from the extra financial clout that comes from being under the wing of one of the UK's biggest publishers.

Grant Leonard, publishing director, claims the title is slightly more upmarket than its rivals and is attracting more advertiser interest since the takeover, which he believes is hitting those competitors.

For clients and agencies, the consensus seems to be that motorcycling magazines are the most effective way to reach bikers. Both the BBC and Sky Sports, along with Eurosport, cover motorcycle sport such as Grand Prix and speedway, but the only channel to offer biker entertainment along the lines of Top Gear is Granada Men & Motors.

The conundrum for advertisers is whether to stick with specialist magazines, where they have a greater chance of seeing return on their investment, or to widen their horizon and bring news-papers and TV into the schedule in an effort to attract new people to motorbikes.

Ashman, as you would expect, argues against more mainstream media. "The response that way is very poor because you have such a scatter-gun approach," he says.

Leonard says the main challenge to specialist motorcycling titles is actually other consumer magazines. "Some advertisers spread their campaigns into men's magazines. A lot of manufacturers will go for GQ or FHM to bring new people to the market but they have to look at the specialist titles as anyone who is into bikes will look at these titles first," he says.


Opinionated viewers

But TV is making an impact. Granada Men & Motors uses Barb data to back up its sales pitches to bike advertisers. "We also know that bikers are the most opinionated viewers we have, which must mean they're watching and engaged," says spokesman Alex Georgiou.

"We also do comparisons with readership numbers of the biking magazines although this is a little like comparing apples and pears. Men and Motors channel reach is 3.5 million men a month, MCN readership is half a million."

The channel's biking output includes: 2 Wheels Down Under - a weekly show from Australia; Bikefile, the definitive buyers guide to new machines; and Scooters - a show focusing on the fast-growing moped market.

Bikers are also web users, which is why Honda recruited digital marketing firm Panlogic for two launch campaigns in 2002.

For the launch of the Honda Hornet, it devised an online web commercial, which allowed users to respond directly. More than 2,100 test rides were booked directly against a target of 500 and 28,000 watched the online movie.

For the launch of the Varadero XL125V, Panlogic developed an online motorbike racing game, taking in four stages from land to sea. The winner received one of the bikes and all contestants were able to see the times to beat on a leader board, generating repeat visits.


Moving into the mainstream

The game was played 15,600 times, and six per cent of entrants booked a test ride.

The future may see more motorcycle ads spreading into broadcast media. Honda's Grimsdall says: "We're in a bit of a flux. We're moving from specialist-only advertising into more mainstream."

He says the UK motorcycle market is not expanding as fast as many manufacturers would like, so they may choose to use non-traditional routes to market.

But Ashman remains steadfast in his defence of the printed medium. "To reach motorcyclists or people interested in motorcycling through other media you would have to pay 10 times as much as you do for Motor Cycle News."

It is a debate as old as the hills. TV offers you critical mass while specialist magazines are better for hitting a niche audience.

Not that Diesel and his Hell's Angels chums are worried about that as they ride off into the sunset with a copy of Back Street Heroes in their back pocket.

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