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Rockers Promote New Image for Previously Uncool Vehicles : Honda Uses Offbeat Stars to Pitch Its Scooters

From the Associated Press

Rock singer Lou Reed flings off his sunglasses, unbuttons his jacket and with a cool stare demands, “Don’t settle for walking!”

If Honda has its way, 75,000 more Americans this year won’t. Reed is playing front man for the new star in Honda’s spotlight--motor scooters.

Posed astride a red, two-passenger scooter in front of the New York City music club the Bottom Line, Reed is the latest in a string of unusual celebrities Honda has chosen to advertise its scooters.

Sold 60,000 Scooters

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Pitching the vehicles to a market of trendy, fun-seeking music listeners, the Japanese company introduced its scooters in the United States last year and sold 60,000 of them. It now claims 84% of the scooter market, a claim supported by the research firm R. L. Polk and Co. in Detroit.

With the Reed ad and two others that ran last spring, Honda is touting the scooter as the “Transportation of the ‘80s.”

Honda motor scooter manager Neil Leventhal says the key to reaching the market is that scooter buyers represent a certain attitude more than a particular age group.

“You have to be somewhat adventurous. You have to be pretty youthful to get involved in something like this and that transcends age barriers,” he said.

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“There’s a range of emotions and attitudes (riding a scooter) represents. Obviously fun--but that’s a very broad term. It’s exhilaration. It’s excitement. For others, it’s an adventure, a sense of individuality.”

To portray this attitude, Honda picked up on the music-video craze. But instead of the suave hunks and blond models featured in many music-video-style ads, Honda has used rock singers like Reed, Grace Jones and Adam Ant. They do not sing in the ads but merely exhibit their off-beat personalities.

Honda’s first scooter commercial featured the Amazonian singer-actress Jones and rocker Ant flirting, with Jones calling motor scooters “sexy” and biting Ant’s ear while urging him to ride one.

Techno-Rock Group Used

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The second spot used the techno-rock group Devo talking about the individuality of scooters in identical voices, looking like clones in identical white coveralls.

The new ad, which premiered in the begining of May, is a series of New York street vignettes and stars, in addition to Reed, bag ladies, street musicians and pedestrians. Reed’s ‘70s hit “Walk on the Wild Side” plays in the background, and he appears at the end with the commercial’s only spoken line.

Leventhal would not reveal how much the stars are paid for their appearances, but he said, “As far as celebrity talent is concerned, we don’t throw it around.”

Leventhal said Honda seeks the unusual talents for its ads because, “We’re not trying to simply draw attention based on that person. We’re trying to take characteristics of that person that have meaning for what we’re trying to sell.”

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For example, “Lou has a point of view that’s very experiential,” he said. “You get involved in things and that’s part of what scooters represent.”

Motor scooters, widely used in Europe, are not new to this country. There has been a small market since the 1950s, dominated by Vespas made by the Italian company Piaggio. A fad for mopeds, small two-wheeled vehicles that are more like motorcycles than scooters, came and went in the ‘70s.

Now Honda and another Japanese company, Yamaha, are trying to make the ‘80s the decade of the motor scooter.

Honda says 75,000 scooters were sold in the United States in 1984. The Motorcycle Industry Council considers motor scooters the same as motorcycles and keeps no separate figures.

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‘Had to Be Easy’

Leventhal said Honda’s scooter was designed to be “a product that was really appropriate for the market. In order to get on it and enjoy it, it had to be easy and it had to be fun.”

The Honda scooters, Leventhal said, “are technologically way ahead of their predecessors. They have a range of features, an attitude and a style that is much more contemporary, much easier and reliable and a lot more affordable.”

The scooters are more solid than mopeds, with wider seats and bodies that depart from a motorized bicycle-look. They retail for $400 to $1,800, depending on the model and size.

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“People are looking more and more to find ways to get a little fun,” Leventhal said. “There seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities in the average day, so people are seeking it a little bit more.”

Pat Ecker of the Motorcycle Industry Council calls the scooter boom “a faddish thing.”

“It’s hard to say whether it will continue to grow or if it’s just a trendy thing,” she said.

Honda hopes to sell 75,000 scooters this year and will produce two more commercials featuring “interesting” personalities to lure those looking to buy a little excitement.

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“It’s pretty convincing to people who just want to take a little bit more out of their day,” Leventhal said.


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