How Kawasaki Pioneered The Idea Of Motorcycle Hangouts

Long before social media created online hangouts, in the eighties and nineties Kawasaki used the power of printed advertising to bring together its followers and owners to actual physical places to gather.

Mind-boggling thought we know.

Regular readers know Kawasaki have opened their vaults to the motorcycle media in celebrating the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer’s fiftieth anniversary of cruising the United States. This wander through the archives shows the same passion for innovation that drives Kawasaki engineering has also propelled its marketing and advertising over the years. Sometimes, the best result comes from far out, innovative thinking, just like with groundbreaking products like the 500 Mach III H1 triple and supercharged Ninja H2R motorcycles.

This was exactly the scenario in 1989 when Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (KMC) launched an inventive print advertising campaign informally known as “Hangouts.” Over two years, a dozen well-known bike hangouts were identified, from Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut to The Rock Store in Malibu, California with two-page ads created around riders congregating there. In what must stand as one of the earliest forms of social media, the ads were run months ahead of time, announcing the exact location and date and enticing riders to come.

The campaign was conceived by Scott Young, the Executive Creative Director at Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt.

“Motorcycling is only partly about bikes and how you feel on them; it’s also about sharing with other people,” Young explains. “The idea was to find a series of places where motorcyclists hang out, and then write about what it would be like to be there. Since the ads were set in the future, no photos were available, so we hired illustrator Bruce Wolfe to portray them.”

The first Hangout event took place at Marcus Dairy on April 16, 1989. No one at KMC or the agency knew how it would turn out, but what happened exceeded expectations as over 7,500 riders arrived, attracting coverage by the New York Times. Other locations would include Alice’s Restaurant near San Francisco, California; the Old Spanish Trail Restaurant in Bandera, Texas; the Logan Inn in New Hope, Pennsylvania; and the Lookout Roadhouse near Lake Elsinore, California.

About six events were held per year during riding season, with a unique Wolfe painting and Young’s experiential copy anchoring each ad. The paintings were also reprinted as posters, available for purchase at Kawasaki dealerships. Young was surprised to see one picturing the Steamboat Springs, Colorado vintage road races in an Isle of Man pub during TT week in 1992.

Although the first Kawasaki “hangouts” were truly free-flow affairs, later in the campaign, KMC added hospitality and test rides to directly connect attendees with Kawasaki products.

‘But at the end of the day Hangouts was all about, well, motorcycles and hanging out,’ Kawasaki notes, ‘Which meant it was…just perfect.’

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