A lot of things have changed in the sport of motocross since it hit our shores some forty odd years ago. The bikes go faster, stop better and fly higher.
The tracks have gone from cow pastures, to death deifying obstacle courses. In the moto media, the coverage has gone from two months late to right now up-to-date. In the crazy world of 24/7 cable news and the internet, nearly every paradigm has been turned on its head.
In spite of all this change, the one thing that has remained a constant is the lust for a new motorcycle. Nothing beats the feeling of rolling that new bike off the showroom floor for the first time. It doesn’t matter if that bike is a ’76 RM or a ‘13 CRF, the anticipation is palatable. Over the years, that ritual has always been preceded by the joy of the new model introduction. Each summer, the manufacturers roll out their new machines and extol its virtues to the waiting press. Sometimes, the new model is little more than last year’s machine tarted up with BNG (Bold New Graphics). Other times, the new bike is a complete overhaul. No matter what the changes, the one thing you can count on is there will be thousands of young men and women hanging on every word. New bikes are fun, and we eat it up.
One thing that the “new media” has changed is the motorcycling press. Before the Internet, all the sport’s focus was on the print media. MXA, Cycle News and Dirt Bike Magazine were the only games in town. Race results were usually months behind and all the information about the bikes were controlled by these walled gardens. Now, however, the web has democratized information. If you want to know about the new bikes you don’t have to wait for the magazines, you can just go to Honda.com and look for yourself. While this has made the information infinitely more accessible, it has also taken away some of the stagecraft. Now days, you just don’t see the cleaver and inventive ad campaigns that were common before the Dot.Com boom.
These days, most print ads are pretty boring by nature. They usually feature a picture of a bike, with some mundane ad copy about lighter this and faster that. They are typically the kind of thing you flip past and don’t really give a second thought. Every now and again, however, the ad agencies come out with a piece of advertising gold. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun for Steve and I to look back at some of the best from the heyday of the print ad. The ads that I have selected are the ones that have made the most lasting impression on me over the years. Some are funny, some are outlandish, and some are even thoughtful. Most of all, they are all memorable. Here are my picks for the ten best motocross print ads of the last forty years.
#10 The “Screaming Yellow Zonker”
In 1977, Suzuki was on a major roll with championship winning bikes and ads that lead the industry.
Blaze- I love this ad. It is both informative and humorous at the same time. It catches your eye with the crazy picture of three riderless ’77 RM’s jumping and keeps you interest with its interesting and colorful chalkboard style ad copy. The tag line “Screaming Yellow Zonkers” (stolen from a 1960’s line of popcorn snacks) was instantly iconic and helped brand the new RM machines in the late seventies. This ad was cool in 1977 and is still more creative than 90% of the boring stuff we see today.
Matthes- Uh yeah, sure Tony. This is awesome. A bunch of drawings of the bike with a photograph of three bikes jumping minus the riders. Real cutting edge stuff here. But seriously, how did they do that shot with no riders? Photoshop wasn't this good back then was it? Does anyone know? Surely to god they didn't have three dudes holding the clutch in, revving it and then launching them did they? This is a huge mystery man.
#9 Do you see the world in YZ?
Anybody who rides and drives past a golf course can relate to these great Yamaha ads.
Blaze- In 2003, Yamaha came out with these cool high concept ads. There were a whole series of different ones showing Yamaha YZ’s blitzing cloud formations, water pipes and such. Another one played on the nickname of the starter’s box as the “doghouse” and showed a rider imagining a start line on either side of Rover’s abode. They were fresh, creative and certainly resonated with anyone who had ever thrown a leg over a motocross bike. Riding is about fun, and these ads perfectly tapped into that little boy’s imagination in every one of us.
Matthes- The one thing about this ad that I don't get, is why Doug Dubach as the rider? You had Chad Reed, David Vuillemin and the great Tim Ferry on your factory team and you put the 50-year olf Dubach in there? Yes, I dream of YZ's and then I dream of winning Vet World Championships like that rider you have in the ad. Why not a rider that won a supercross title the year before (Reed) or a guy who probably should have won the premier class title (DV) or you know, the great Tim Ferry in there? So yeah, while the ad is cool, I question the choice. As well, the year before this ad Honda had come out with their CRF450 that was probably about 40% better than the Yamaha. It was lighter, faster, had better throttle response and was skinnier. It was so much better than the Yamaha's back then, it wasn't even funny. So maybe Yamaha's ad should have been "The YZ450F- When Honda's are sold out" which would have won some points for honesty anyways.
#8 Parts is parts
It is pretty cool to see all the parts that go into a motocross bike.
Blaze- In truth, this spot could well go to the 1986 Yamaha YZ125, which actually did this ad idea first. In the end, my pick went to the 1991 KX250, because I thought it executed the same basic idea better. I think it is always cool to see all the guts that go into a racing motorcycle and this ad does a great job of showing all those goodies. The tag line is clever as well and it doesn’t hurt that the ’91 KX250 is one of the coolest looking motocross bikes ever built.
Matthes- Yeah, cool ad but like Blazier says, it was done before but like so many other things what's old is new again. I'd like to see an ad with a firepit and the guy that decided to anadize the upper fork tubes blue being lowered into it. That was pretty dumb in my opinion.
Déjà vu- They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all…
Matthes- Nothing says "Hey WE know our last year's bike sucked donkey balls (and the 1985 YZ125 did) so we're going to make it REAL clear that the new model is all new so please stick with us and buy the new one" than this ad right here. I always liked the look of these bikes here, my brother had a 125 and 250 but he ruined his by duct taping his tank to protect it. I never really got that "trend".
#7 You too can own Jeff Ward’s Factory bike.
If you think your ’89 KX is as good as Wardy’s ’88 SR I have a bridge I would love to sell you.
Blaze- In seventh we have another copycat ad. This time the offender is Kawasaki with their pilfering of a Suzuki ad from 1984. In it, Kawasaki engages in the time-honored tradition of touting how close their production bikes are to their factory racers. Of course, this type of hyperbole has been going on since the beginning of time, but at least in ’88, there was a small grain of truth in there. Prior to 1986, that kind of statement was basically a bald faced lie and any assertions in that direction were taken with a huge grain of salt. After the introduction of the production rule, however, works and production became more related than ever before. This Kawasaki ad does a great job of pointing out those similarities without straying too far into the land of fairytales.
In truth, both of these bikes were big heavy handfuls that felt 15 pounds heavier than a Honda CR250R (I bought a ’89 KX250 and hated it so much I traded it back in a week later). They had good suspension, but felt like a 500 with a sock in the airbox (I have always wondered how a munchkin like Ward went so fast on a bike sized for Andre the Giant). Still, the ad was cool, memorable and allowed Kawasaki to display that big #1.
Matthes- Cool ad for sure. I'd rather have seen Lechien there with a tagline like "The 1989 KX 250- So good that this guy doesn't have to train and can still win races". If you look at that type there under the bike, it's funny the stuff that they say is the same on both the works bike and the production bike. It's pretty generic stuff like "Has a gas tank".
Déjà vu deux
Matthes- Barnett's 1983 worksd bike broke on him more than a few times this year and cost him the sx and mx titles so I'm not sure this is something I'd like to promote if I was Suzuki. As well, Barney's '84 works bike had the fuel tank moved under the seat at one point but that bike sucked also. This was the beginning of the dark years for Suzuki and it would take until 1989 until they saw light.
#6 A whole new breed of CR
Don’t let Ping next to this thing or he will punch in your expansion chamber.
Blaze- I know, I know, here I go again about the stupid 1990 CR250R. I get it, not everyone shares my love of the taste and design excellence showcased in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety. Maybe I am stuck in the days of MC Hammer and Seinfeld, but I can still spot a cool ad when I see it and this one fits the bill.
For starters, unlike out two previous entries, this one it is truly different. It is visually interesting, clever in design and memorable. It is clean and simple, while conveying several important messages to a consumer. I’m not sure how anyone ever came up with the idea of drawing a parallel between a pit bull and a Honda CR, but when you see the two together it seems a perfect fit. The ad makes a strong suggestion of power and presence, while insinuating subliminally that to ride a CR will make you the leader of the pack. Again, in my opinion, it does not hurt that the ’90 CR250R is drop-dead gorgeous. Even if you don’t like its looks, however, you have to admit this in an interesting and memorable motorcycle ad.
Matthes- Blazier and his 1990 obsession once again hits Pulpmx.com. Here are Blazier's top ten movies of his whole life:
Home Alone Ghost Dances with Wolves Pretty Women Ninja Turtles The Hunt for Red October Total Recall Die Hard 2 Dick Tracy Kindergarten Cop
Which all happen to be the top ten grossing movies in 1990- shocking eh? Anyways, yes this ad is cool and how about Honda spending the dollars to just have two pages of a red dog? (Feels good to even type that by the way) That's when you have "Eff you" money. When you can waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to just have a wordless ad with a painted dog. Nice one Honda. By the way, did they really paint a dog? How did they do this?
#5 How to eat the competition alive
In the early 80’s, Honda cranked out some awesome ads and some fantastic motorcycles.
Blaze- In the early eighties Honda was really starting to hit their stride and cool confidant ads like this only added to their momentum. Most of the time, motocross ads offer a lot of boasting and empty promises, but these bikes could actually follow through on those claims. They truly looked and performed five years ahead of the competition at the time.
With this ad, Honda made great use of lighting and background design to really complement the color schemes of their bikes. The red and blue really pop against the blue backdrop and the bikes positively seem to glow with color. Honda put out a lot of good ads in this period, but I think the ’86 is the best. After ’86, they got more bland and cookie cutter for a few years. Nineteen eighty six was a great year to be on a Honda, and one look at these sweet machines shows why.
Matthes- Yeah Honda! Another great ad when the dollars and expense accounts accounted for cocaine useage by the execs. Five pages promoting the new CR's and they '86's were pretty bitching looking bikes no doubt about it. And to use a wolf? Brilliant! I loved how the number plate backgrounds were actually to spec on the production bikes for the AMA pro racing, that was another cool trick. Gold rims? Yes please.
#4 Holly Kaw
This baby blew back quite a few wigs when it first came out.
Blaze- OK, in fairness this ad is actually pretty standard fare in general. It has the ubiquitous motorcycle on the stand shot, with an anonymous track in the background. In that respect it looks like a dozen other ads over the years. It does benefit from a bit of clever ad copy, and the backdrop is certainly lovely, but what really sets this baby apart is that crazy looking bike on the stand.
When the ’90 KX’s came out, they were such a departure from the dowdy bikes they replaced that they looked to be from another planet. These were some influential bikes too. They were the first to go with the bright colors and over-the-top graphics that would become all the rage in the early 90’s. They were also pioneers in the perimeter frame game and used that design a full decade before it would become the standard of the industry. The ’90 KX’s made a huge splash, based a great deal on the impact of this ad, and leaving it off just would not seem right.
Matthes: Yep, "Holy Kaw" is a nice tagline for this bike because upon seeing it, that was basically my reaction (to be fair it was more like "Holy Cow" but yeah Kawasaki, we get it) because this bike was like looking at a spaceship that just landed on your front lawn. It's bold to just put your bike on the stand and have nothing else there but in this case, it works.
#3 It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Chicken?
I’m sure this ad caused more than a few double takes.
Blaze- In ads, there is always a fine line between cool idea and silly nonsense. With this ’93 Kawasaki ad, I think they got that balance just right. It is certainly eye catching, with Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich launching the all-new KX250 into the stratosphere. At first glance, in fact, it almost seems believable. Once you look a little closer, however, it is pretty clear they are stretching the limits of physics here a bit. Still, it is close enough to reality to not seem ridiculous and it certainly grabs the reader’s attention.
The ad does a great job of making the KX look superhuman, while all the competition looks like toys left in its wake. It is inventive, colorful, and memorable all at the same time. If the goal of a great ad is to get it taped to the bedroom and garage walls of potential buyers everywhere, this baby was a homerun.
Matthes- Was this approximately how high Chicken was for most of his career? Is this some sort of metaphor? It's always ballsy to put your competition's bikes in the ads and frame it so that you're "better" than them. That's a risky move but hey, it's Kawasaki and they had the chicken man.
#2 The heyday of the Hurricane
You just don’t see sweet ads like this any more.
Blaze- In the heyday of motocross, awesome campaigns like this NINE page Yamaha YZ ad were like crack to teenage motoheads everywhere. Today, you’re lucky if you get a two page spread with a picture of one of the team riders on the bike. Most often, it is a boring halfhearted effort that most people don’t even bother to read. When you opened up this baby in 1980, though, you had a good twenty minutes worth of studying to do. I personally must have read this ad a hundred times back in the day, scrutinizing every little nugget and detail.
I love the cool motor and suspension cutaways that are interesting and informative (they probably show more info about the inner workings of a motor than 90% of the riders in the pro pits know). With all the misunderstanding about Yamaha’s current YZ450, they could really use an in depth ad like this to explain to the public why they decided to go against 100 years of motorcycle design and turn their motor backward in the first place, but I digress. With the advent of the internet, you just don’t see effort put into print ads like this anymore. Now it is all about page views and multimedia presentations. That is too bad, because ads like these are a slice of moto history that should not be forgotten.
Matthes- Later on Yamaha won all three titles and put number one's on the production bikes which wouldn't come on unless you soaked the plastic in paint thinner. Thanks Yamaha for all the killed brain cells when my dad Tom would put me in charge of that chore as we had Yamaha's for years. It didn't matter that Yamaha only won all three titles in one year, oh no- they ran that number one trick for about six years. Anyways, I agree with Blaze in that Yamaha should break down the new 450 like this and explain the reasonings behind doing what they did.
#1 This is motocross
Kawasaki has done some great ads over the years, but this one is its best.
Blaze- Clear track, beautiful Washington pines in the background, on the gas and pulling away. If there is a MX nirvana, this is just what it looks like. Motocross is an extremely visceral sport, and this ad does a fantastic job of tapping into those feelings.
It perfectly captures the thrill and individual nature of motocross, which draws so many of us away from the team disciplines. Motocross is about you and the bike, working as one to master the track. Even though the bikes have changed, that message resonates just as much today as it did in 1985.
Matthes: REALLY surprised the number one ad wasn't something from 1990 but yeah, anyways this is a cool ad and I always wondered as a kid how they did it. There weren't exactly GoPro's around much back then and it's a really clear shot. Kawasaki liked this ad so much they ran it for '84 and '85 I believe. Also a nice promo to buy the Kawasaki gloves that were probably junk back then.