With a gritty DIY look, exhaust brand brings fun back
With a new black and tan shield logo and images of men with greasy hands working in their garages prominently displayed, Cobra USA’s 40-by-20-foot booth at the center of the V-Twin Expo drew attention.
Those who have known Cobra throughout its 39-year history have grown accustomed to the red and white look of the past, but the new logo and marketing materials unveiled at the show were different, and people noticed.
“It’s gone everywhere from ‘Wow you guys look like a completely different company,’ to other people saying, ‘Wow, it looks like you’ve really evolved and are really in touch with the marketplace,’” reported Camron Bussard, Cobra’s director of sales & marketing. “That’s really been the biggest thing — this feels real and genuine and authentic and important in way, too.”
Made in California
The new look has been in the works for about a year. Bussard said many in the industry, Cobra included, have focused on too professional of an image, and since so many people got into this industry because they’re hands-on enthusiasts, Cobra’s messaging should show that.
“We looked at ourselves and thought we need to be able to bring some fun back into it. We want to bring our brand back to life,” he explained. “We’ve been made in southern California since 1977. That’s the hotbed of the hot rod industry, and almost all of the long-term companies also came out of Southern California. So we wanted to bring some of that So Cal do-it-yourself, work-in-the-garage and bring the fun back into motorcycling, certainly with aftermarket exhaust. So that was the nexus of our thinking of ‘How do we bring our brand to life.”’
Previous marketing messages have focused on Cobra’s lifetime warranty and its quality, but Bussard saw an opportunity to send that same message in a different way.
“We began exploring ‘Made in America.’ That was a strong point, but everybody settles for ‘Made in America.’ So then we had to look at ‘Made in Southern California since 1977,’ and that puts us in a specific location and a specific time frame. In a bigger sense, yes we’re made in America, but the ‘Made in California’ sort of gives us that attitude, and that was the beginning of where we ended up with the current expression,” Bussard said.
The Cobra marketing staff released the new logo and images at the V-Twin Expo because it was the first big motorcycle event of the year.
“It’s the first kickoff of the year. Daytona is a little bit late, and we wanted to have all of this material ready,” Bussard said. “We’re considering this a rollout, not a launch, because our advertising will follow behind it. This is really just the beginning of what we plan to do. This look and this feel is an indicator of where we’re going, and we’ve got other stuff coming down the market. Our social media campaigns, the apparel we’re developing, the advertising and our catalogs are moving in this direction, so this is just the start.”
The new images of men working in their garages reflect on Cobra’s history and culture. Tim McCool and Ken Boyko started the business as a small company that manufactured high-performance ATV exhausts. The company remains private, with about 85 people working to produce, sell and market Cobra exhaust from the company’s 85,000-square-foot factory in Yorba Linda, Calif.
“There’s a passion that runs through the company to make great products, to develop great products, but also to market them in a way that’s exciting for the consumers,” Bussard said. “We still control our destiny. We’re not owned by a conglomerate or a hedge fund or investors; we’re like a family business.”
On the throttle with product
At the V-Twin Expo, Cobra was showcasing new mufflers, a detachable backrest for Harley-Davidson baggers and accessories for H-D bikes. Cobra was also excited to showcase its new line of products built specifically for trikes.
“We began to develop products specifically for the trike line and the three-wheeler that was made for them; it wasn’t designed for a motorcycle and adapted. That’s giving the customers products made just for their trikes that fit properly, that sound properly. That’s just a market that we think deserves better products and to have an assortment to choose from,” Bussard said.
With the popularity of trikes as baby boomers age, Cobra saw an opportunity to serve its loyal customers who have now converted to trikes, as well as to reach those who haven’t had a Cobra exhaust before, but would like something new that fits their trike specifically. The response from the release of the line has been positive, Bussard said.
“We’ll continue to develop products for them. We now have four mufflers that are specific to the trikes. We have a head pipe that’s designed just for the trikes that has the S-bend built into it, so the customer doesn’t have to spend an extra $80 for an S-bend adapter kit. That gives them a quality product at the same price the motorcycle guys are paying,” he said.
The trike systems come with the same lifetime warranty Cobra is proud to offer across its line.
“We’re the only guys that back our product up and say as long as you own your motorcycle, if something goes wrong with our product, we’ll replace it. We’ll take care of that for you,” Bussard said.
These new products are just one example of the ways Cobra tries to be different than its competitors. Bussard said that when other brands go one way, Cobra purposefully heads in a different direction.
“We’re a challenger brand on the V-twin segment, but as a challenger brand, we get to do things that the more established guys can’t,” he said. “We can take risks with our branding and how we present our company. We can take a risk with the types of products that we develop. So there’s a lot of stuff that we can do. We can outthink, outsmart, outwork somebody else because we’re smaller, lighter, nimbler, faster.”PSB