It’s a conversation that happens across the country—how many times a day? A hundred? A thousand? Warily eyeing middle age bearing down on him, a fella goes out and buys a motorcycle on a whim. He’s plunked down his 10 grand, and he’s had a swell time getting bugs in his teeth out on the open road.
Now there’s just one problem: He hasn’t told his significant other about it.
This squirmy conversation is the topic of the latest advertising spot debuting today from Zero Motorcycles. (Watch it below.) Zero as a brand name doesn’t rank with the legacy nameplates like Harley, Kawasaki or Honda, but that’s actually part of the hook here. In business just 11 years, Zero is one of the leading brands in the $12 billion electric motorcycle segment. And the earth-friendly attributes of electronic biking is the fuel that our hero puts in his argumentative tank as he practices various pitches he’ll soon have to use on his mate.
“Whether to themselves or to others, everyone has been in the position of trying to justify something they want,” said Zero spokesperson Christina Rotar. “However, when justifying an electric motorcycle purchase, there are so many logical and obvious reasons why it’s a better solution.”
And indeed, the 30-something guy in the ad cycles through many of those logical reasons: “This is great for the environment,” for instance, and, “I can charge it at work. This baby’s actually gonna pay for itself.”
The humor emerges as our hero, clearly nervous about the impending confrontation, rehearses increasingly desperate arguments.
“I bought this to cut down on commute time, so we could have more ‘us’ time,” he says.
And the worst argument in the history of relationships: “OK—You have your shoes. I have my motorcycle. What’s the difference?”
In between the hypothetical argument shots, writer and director Ian Schiller (who’s also worked with Apple, Intel and the UFC) cut in breathtaking action scenes showing the new Zero owner having himself a grand time zipping all over the place—along an ocean highway, to an alpine lake, through an oil field and even around a bank of dryers at a laundromat.
Rotar said the ad, which was conceived by Zero’s in-house marketing team, is a first in electric-vehicle marketing—and for two reasons.
Ecologically sound purchases, she said, are rarely impulse buys, but “this is the first video that flips the gas-electric purchase decision on its head. Most people don’t think of an electric vehicle purchase as a passion-impulse buy. This is the first to present it in that fashion.”
“The video is also a departure from the types of standard motorcycle riding videos we’ve done in the past,” Rotar added, “by incorporating a fun storyline, humor and focusing on the fun you have along the journey versus the ride itself.”
Zero’s approach is refreshing and long overdue in the opinion of brand and agency consultant Petur Workman of Workman Global. “I think it’s phenomenal,” he said. “They’re not trying to attract a non-motorcycle consumer—it’s someone who already knows about owning a motorcycle. It doesn’t need to market to everyone. It just has to create that lifestyle approach. The guy is super hot, but he’s … not overly processed. I love the dark tone of it. I think they hit it out of the park. It would make me want to Google [the brand].”
Workman added that the ad is free of the usual clichés found in motorcycle commercials, especially the repeated shots of the nameplate and the presumption that the potential owner is heterosexual. “This is not a sex-centric commercial—I don’t feel like there’s a wife involved,” he said. “[The protagonist] could be an attractive gay man or a straight man or even a single person saying to his parents, ‘I just spent 10 grand on this bike—but look, I’m saving on energy!'”
Regardless of how the public takes this ad, which will run on social media channels, it’s clearly in keeping with Zero’s track record of aggressive growth.
While electric motorcycles have been around far longer than people think—Popular Mechanics ran an article on one as early as 1911—it took until the 2000, when lithium-ion batteries entered the picture along with compact but powerful electric motors, for the category to go mainstream. Among the scattering of high-tech garage tinkerers building electric bikes in their garages, there was Neal Saiki, a former aerospace engineer with NASA who rolled out a bike he called the Drift in 2006. Saiki’s company, Electricross, changed its name to Zero Motorcycles (a reference to zero carbon emissions) a year later.
Zero’s whisper-quiet, enormously powerful motorcycles (priced between $8,495 and $15,995) have turned heads from the start. The company launched the world’s first 24-hour electric motorcycle race, got the nod in 2010 from then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and counts among its celebrity customers Jay Leno, who called the Zero X “the future of motorcycling.” These days, Zero makes off-road bikes, street bikes, and even police bikes and military bikes.
Alas, the one thing Zero doesn’t make—even with this ad—is the perfect excuse to hand your significant other once you buy one on a whim.