Remember taking your driver's test? Remember how many questions were devoted to sharing the road with motorcycles? Don't rack your brains; we'll tell you: in most states, none.
And that's why a scruffy, bearded biker named Nate Hudson is currently riding his custom-built 2015 Indian Roadmaster on a 17,000-mile trek through every state in America, with Allstate Insurance forking over the gas money.
Hudson is currently about halfway through his mission to hit the motor vehicle office in every state's capital, where his drill is the same. He hand delivers a request that the authorities consider including motorcycle awareness in both the driver's license exam and the state's drivers' ed curriculum. "As a motorcycle enthusiast and longtime rider myself," Hudson said before taking off on May 12, "motorcycle safety is incredibly important to me."
Which is why Hudson is incredibly important to Allstate. The company has hired Hudson to deliver this safety message, and also personify it. The insurance company's marketing team is busy funneling all of Hudson's posts and Instagram photos to its social media channels, including Facebook.
Indeed, the "Ride for Awareness"—as the trek is called—is a good example of how a brand with a decidedly unsexy product to sell (no disrespect, Allstate) can score big by ditching traditional marketing in favor of user-generated content—especially if the user is a guy like Nate Hudson. As co-owner of the British-American Motorcycle Club, a bike shop in Long Beach, Calif., and a lifelong rider who's got 200,000 miles of road behind him, the tattooed and wind-burned Hudson is about as authentic a brand spokesperson as you're likely to find.
"We're getting a lot out of Nate," said Allstate's director of marketing, Karen Uhler. "He's got a photographic skill set, and he's been an overachiever on this."
In fact, apart from requiring him to hit the state DMVs, Allstate has pretty much left Hudson on his own—to plan his own itinerary, stop where he wants and take photos of whatever interests him. Thus far, Hudson has hit the Ink-N-Iron festival in Nashville, eaten at The Varsity in Atlanta, visited the U.S.S. North Carolina and hung out beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
"You're getting a lot of Nate on his own, and it's very authentic," Uhler added. "We mention the safety message, but we wanted this [effort] to be lifestyle-driven. We want riders to live though his experience."
Hudson is definitely experiencing a lot out there. Actually, it's surprising how little he says about the fact that he's on a sponsored trip—although Allstate did trick out his ride (donated by Indian motorcycles) in the official company shade of blue, complete with logo and trim. Any photo of his bike, therefore, becomes a social-media ad for Allstate.
Guerrilla marketing impresario Sam Ewen, partner in the New York firm Guild, says he applauds Allstate for directly reaching out to the biker community with something other than a TV spot, although he thinks that Hudson's ride could be drawing a bigger audience if it were more participatory. "Insurance does not have to be sexy—motorcycles and the men and women who ride them are," he said. "And while Nate fits the look and vibe, partnering him with some of the more popular social media personalities in the game could have been a way to connect the dots for the brand and for a good cause."
Ewen points to the annual Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, which brings out thousands of biker guys turned out in tweed suits and cravats to raise money for prostate cancer research, and averages 2,000 likes per post on social media. Still, Ewen adds, "you have to tip the hat to Allstate for trying." And for one guy on one bike, Hudson's generating a good deal of attention—including TV news coverage in every capital city he's stopped at thus far.
In fact, the only drawback for Allstate seems to be that the idea of motorcycle-riding, social media brand ambassador gets uncomfortably close to a safety issue that's in the news a lot. "Obliviously, we can't have him shooting pictures while he's riding," Uhler said, answering the question before it was asked, "and no texting!"