Startup electric motorcycle manufacturer Brammo’s hit a bit of a rough patch as they roll out their instore marketing effort. The Ashland, OR bike builder set out to travel the road less traveled, yet the uproar over the latest wrinkle from the South Florida ad shop charged with making their market is not what’s needed in a struggling channel.
Background: Swoopy machine with state-of-the-art content; aluminum frame, lithium ion fuel, quirky – quirky? – naming strategy. Nicely interactive work-in-progress web site. Looks like a well constructed, well thought out machine that, if not ready for the masses, is certainly intriguing, albeit pricey, for some of us who already ride. So far, so good.
Building an all new, ground up anything ain’t cheap. Brammo was (reportedly) able to secure $10M in financing from Big Box Electronic Gadget Best Buy’s venture capital arm. And Best Buy is where Brammo’s now sold, in the process bypassing traditional powersports resellers for a mass retailer. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Best Buy also has a product installation and service division called Geek Squad, a cleverly branded concept whose advertising duties have recently been handed to Crispin Porter and Bogusky (CP+B), a major agency headquartered in Miami and outposted in Boulder, CO, Santa Monica and London. Most famous for their often controversial Burger King efforts and recently selected by Harley Davidson as Buell’s new shop their reported billings are in excess of $1 billion. That’s an important number.
So in a move that left many ad industry watchers scratching their heads, CP+B put their current crop of interns up for bid on eBay. Brammo won, some suggest as a result of inside relationships, at just under $18K. Strike one.
Then CP+B opened up a so-called “crowdsource” competition to design a fresh new logo for Brammo’s brand, a process otherwise known as spec work, solicited from over 700 respondents as grist for the mill.
Now, everyone familiar with agencies knows uncompensated pitches are the norm in a client dictates conditions world. What isn’t so well known is the genuine feeling of loathing generated amongst creative independents when asked to sing for their supper. Supper, in this case, being the $1,000 “award” if selected to grace the flanks of a $12K machine benefitting from $10M in angel money. Offered by a shop billing over a billion real bucks. Wow! A shiny new quarter towards my Christmas layaway!
There is a pattern here, a pattern perfected by CP+B, that basically creates outrage and then exploits the attending noteriety. Some might call it crazy backwards PR, which seems to be what’s happening here as applied to the client’s interests.
I’ve never been a big fan of CP+B’s product. Maybe a little, back in the beginning based on their creative for Virgin, but not much since. Wrong demos, but plenty of others like their look and let’s face it, you don’t pick up agency of the year awards for slack-jawed work product.
We’ll close this little narrative for now by wondering exactly what kind of advice Brammo’s gleaning from those fresh-faced interns? As we understand events, the courtship has now moved to a more traditionally compensated client-agency relationship.
Which is interepreted by our Magik Marketing Eight Ball as a small, entry level product rep’d by a mega-giganto shop to sell way expensive electric motorcycles alongside the appliances section of a big box retailer specializing in home theater and iPods. Too heavy for the marine/marina crowd, too expensive for the college crowd, and competing with literally dozens of hypermileage conventional four-stroke scooters and bikes, we’re pretty sure there is one market the Brammo Enertia will clobber effortlessly: most likely to be jacked and stripped for the battery content.