Kawasaki's Classic Print Ads And Banned Television Commercials

The evolution of motorcycles goes beyond technology or features. With that thought, Clutch and Chrome looks back at an era of Kawasaki’s two-wheeled advertising that tempted riders of days gone by.

While celebrating fifty years in the US market, the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has opened its corporate vaults allowing a peek at the historic advertising campaigns that drew American riders into Kawasaki’s saddles.

Riding back to a time before the World Wide Web existed and when social media could be considered as flyers handed out at a concert, print media and television were the undisputed kings of reaching customers in 1977.

Harnessing these powerful communications tools, Kawasaki had already launched two advertising campaigns, ‘Come out ahead on a Kawasaki’ in 1972 and ‘Let the good times roll’ in 1973. With the next step considered as reaching out to the most avid enthusiasts, advertising agency J. Walter Thompson created the ‘We know why you ride’ campaign for 1977. Unlike the previous two campaigns, which built Kawasaki’s brand image for general audiences, ‘We know why you ride’ drilled straight into the veins of diehard motorcyclists.

“The silent road shimmers with sunshine and challenge,” started one ad. “You wrap your legs a little more aggressively around the sleek, pulsing power beneath you. And then the day explodes. Walk the curve, become the bike, rule the road.”

Other ads burrowed deep into the technology that real riders care about: rpm; quarter-mile acceleration; power-to-weight ratio; rake and trail; and center of gravity.

History buffs may note, this campaign was launched just in time for Kawasaki’s full transition to building four-stroke street bikes and the new LTD model range. The advertisements ran for two years in magazines read by young enthusiasts, firmly establishing how Kawasaki connects with highly passionate riders.

“We know why you ride. You’ve told us. And it’s the same reason Kawasaki builds bikes. Not assembly line piles of sprockets, chains and gears. Ideas. The essence of motion. The reason to ride. Performance machines that sing with the finely tuned joy of an engine embracing a road. Kawasaki,” words which were written over 40 years ago, but still ring true today.

Television advertising allowed for even more dramatic development of this theme, with one particular Robert Abel & Associates-produced commercial, “The Ultimate Trip,” showing scenery flashing past while vibrantly changing colors through early computer graphics technology.

“Kawasaki introduces a full line of fast, dependable four-stroke road bikes that will take you down any road the mind can travel,” said the narrator. Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the 30-second spot intended to imitate the vivid sense of freedom that motorcycling delivers, but its “psychedelic” nature soon got it censored by at least two networks!

Even so, the “We Know Why You Ride” campaign proved yet again that Kawasaki was driven by passion and would record an unforgettable era of motorcycle history.

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