Opinions are important. They constitute fundamental building blocks of brand image. When opinions turn against a brand or product category they pose serious problems. Consider the following line which I came across painted on different spaces in the state of Uttrakhand (UK):
“Give your son life, not a motorcycle”
What does this statement convey? This is a warning to parents not to allow their son to buy a motor cycle because it may take away his life. Certainly a biker is vulnerable in the absence of protective case but can a bike actually be a life robbing machine? A bike in itself can’t do that but how it is put to use, definitely can. There are many instruments or substances which come with a warning. Even an innocent polythene bag used to pack a shirt warms its users to ‘to keep it away from the reach of children’. Floor cleaners and mosquito spray cans also have similar warnings. So does the fault lies in a motorcycle or its users and why it is driven in an accident inviting manner. Why does dangerous driving attract a typical youngster?
The way a product is prescribed to be used and is actually used is tempered by the media influence. The images portrayed often promote dangerous practices (like stunts and rash behavior) and position the rider as desirable. Brands are positioned on appeals such as thrill, daring, power and sexual attractiveness. Movies also position the rash and brash with heroism and valorize the negative. The feel good subverts the attention from the reality and fantasy takes over leading to recklessness and rashness. The mandatory warnings like ‘don’t try this at home’ or ‘performed by experts’ are deliberately designed not to capture attention. The id takes over pushing the superego in to the background.
Motorcycles are male objects. The terms object signifies ‘desire’ and you ride and drive them. Their orchestration at one level works on the pleasure principle and it is always a challenge to try new things out. In many cultures taming a wild horse or facing a beast is what manliness all about. But urban centres do not have coliseums but certainly have roads. The brawn is how you ride. How daring, how noisy (modified silencers), how one of a kind (break rules). Cars are like cows, silent, move in herds and are docile, where as the bike is a new beast.
For the urban youth these rites of passage into manhood or shows of male strength don’t exist but the desire to go through the same does not vanish; these are rooted in the collective subconsciousness.
Alcohol companies promote responsible drinking (‘don’t drink and drive’, ‘champions drink responsibly’). This way both industry and consumer interest could be guarded; Bajaj once ran a ‘hamara Bajaj’ campaign which tired to touch emotional chord by focusing on Indian virtues. If promotions directly or indirectly encourage riders into dangerous biking, it is time a campaign is a launched to counter such motivation. Accidents have big econo-social effects. Bottom line considerations need not blind marketers to unintended effects on larger society.