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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @ atvsource.com

May 2009 - Off The Pegs

ATVs in the Limelight

While perusing my latest issue of Motor Trend, I happened upon a full-page advertisement for Ford’s ’09 F-150 pickup truck. Rather than show the vehicle in “typical” automotive-style poses (think frontal view while drifting sideways with clouds of dust rolling from behind), this ad was unique because it showed only the rear of the truck as if taken from pavement level as the vehicle was driving away. Most notable to me, however, was that peering out over the closed-tailgate was the unmistakable shape of a new Polaris Outlaw 450 MXR.

The ad was clearly targeting the notion of enjoying the ATV scene even over the obvious hot selling points of late for the truck itself--things like fuel economy, horsepower, and warranty. What little of my college education in advertising still remains tells me that ads like this one attempt to convey a lifestyle rather than simply a product. Products, it turns out, don’t sell well in times of economic stress, and it makes sense, too. With total uncertainty of the future of the American automotive industry, oil prices only slightly less erratic than the stock market itself, and unemployment numbers steadily climbing, it’s no wonder ambitions of buying a new truck “just because” have been on the decline.

Enter lifestyle advertising and with it the notion of far more than simply exchanging money for a product. Beer commercials are huge on this--with each bottle cap twisted comes hordes of bikini-clad women and cool friends who do little more than throw great parties. Products alone depreciate and, in the case of the truck, come with fat payment books to boot. Lifestyles on the other hand are much harder to put a price on.

It comes as no surprise then that auto makers would turn to sports like ours to include a hint of that potential in their sales material. After all, who doesn’t fancy the prospect of weekends spent on the trails, exploring remote areas of the wilderness, or mastering a tricky rhythm section of a freshly watered MX track? I know I was lost in a momentary reflection of the joys of quad riding upon gazing at the ad despite not being in the market for a brand new pickup.

In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies don’t start using ATVs in their advertising campaigns. The potential they display goes well beyond pickup trucks but could easily be used to promote television sets (that imposed scene of a kid’s soccer game is getting old), exercise equipment, granola bars, energy drinks--the list is endless.

Americans understand the economic climate in terms of how it relates to tangible goods far better than they do a whole new perspective on life. In other words, it’s a lot easier to pass on something that’s not essential than it is to get swept away by the promise of a new hobby. Also, while ATV sales, like other recreational industries including boats, motor homes, and snowmobiles, are down, the fact that auto companies are recognizing the appeal speaks volumes. Unfortunately, it is possible for too much exposure to prove even more harmful than not enough.

Back in the 1980s the industry suffered one of its worst “black eyes” of all time thanks in no small part to increased media exposure slanted toward proving three-wheelers dangerous. In truth, it was bad judgment and bad decisions over bad design that led to the responsibility that ultimately fell directly into the laps of the manufacturers.

Of late there have been lifeless lawyer campaigns targeting victims of UTV (side by side) accidents in effort to once again bring litigation against the OEMs. Truthfully, we’re dangerously close to witnessing another setback not at all unlike the last one.

I’m all for increased ATV awareness, especially when our products are used to paint pictures of living the dream on the back of a shiny new truck. It’s the type of publicity that bloodthirsty law firms have been providing lately we can do without!


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