ATV marketing gets personal – November 13, 2006

The gloves have officially come off in powersports marketing.
Pulling a move from the annals of automotive marketing history, Polaris shone the marketing spotlight on its CEO in The Duel — an unusually personal challenge to determine, before a live audience, which OEM makes the most off-road capable ATVs.
Polaris CEO Tom Tiller appeared in a video provoking his contemporaries to a head-to-head machine test on a specifically modified motocross track in Las Vegas. The goal was to determine a reigning king of the mountain in the ATV market. The showdown was planned for Nov. 16 and a third party would have judged the event.
A Web site was created and a letter was drafted and sent to CEOs of six competing ATV manufacturers — Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BRP and Arctic Cat. Visitors to the elaborate site had the option to follow the day-to-day happenings, read Tiller’s blog and download a petition to send to the challenged CEOs.
“Tom Tiller is the leader and highest ranking employee at Polaris and, therefore, the best spokesperson to represent the confidence we have in our products,” Polaris ATV Marketing Manager Jeff LeFever said.
But all opponents either declined to participate or failed to respond and, now that the deadline has passed, The Duel has been called off.
Some OEM officials privately wondered how fair the contest would have been because of the wide gap in the ages of the CEOs. One of the CEOs invited by Polaris is in his 70s.
BRP CEO Jose Boisjoli told Powersports Business that he did not see the logic in asking CEOs to ride in such an event.
“If I want our product to be evaluated versus other product, I would hire a professional driver,” Boisjoli said, noting he’s an ATV rider but certainly not one with the skills of a professional. “I feel like we have absolutely nothing to gain” from appearing at the event.
Before canceling the event, Medina, Minn.-based Polaris said it was more than prepared to proceed as the company had an agreement with Pro-Motion Motorsports to build the track at Orleans Arena, purchase and validate the units and officiate the competition.
LeFever said the decision to use CEOs instead of professional riders signals the company-wide passion that Polaris has in its products. Although the ages and riding experience of OEM CEOs is varied, LeFever added that each participant could have selected the stock machine of their choice to make things fair. In addition, the course was designed to test the capabilities of each machine, rather than riding ability, LeFever said.
Polaris sells its four-wheelers under the tagline “The World’s Toughest ATVs.”
“Several other ATV manufacturers make similar claims using carefully choreographed simulations that often confuse consumers and generate biased results,” LeFever said.
The victor would have received a $10,000 donation on behalf of the winning company to the nonprofit ATV organization of their choice through Polaris’ T.R.A.I.L.S. grant program. Since The Duel is no more, the company will donate the funds to a yet-to-be-determined organization.
A press release on the event’s demise stated the lack of competition led Tiller to claim an uncontested victory. “Their unwillingness to participate proves only one company makes the world’s toughest ATVs … and that company is Polaris.”
“We’re disappointed,” LeFever said. “We wanted to clear up the confusion riders face in the marketplace by settling it in a live, head-to-head competition, which manufacturer truly offers the toughest ATVs.”
While it may be the wildest, old West-style duels are not the only nontraditional marketing tactic up Polaris’ sleeve.
Beginning in the second half of 2006, the company started airing a half-hour infomercial that highlights the Sportsman X2, Hawkeye 300 and Outlaw 500 four-wheelers, as well as the Ranger utility vehicle.
“It’s something we’ve always been interested in,” LeFever said.
He said the idea resulted from a discussion of how the company could convey seat-of-the-pants aspects to consumers, such as handling and performance, which are difficult to show on the showroom floor.
“How do you bring that same knowledge and understanding to somebody who maybe hasn’t had the chance to actually get on one?” LeFever said.
The infomercial, a collaborative effort with three advertising agencies, is being shown in a variety of different markets across the country and also is available online or can be mailed directly to consumers.
Can-Am has used infomercials in the past year to market its Outlander ATVs. LeFever said the company was aware of Can-Am’s video, but added it was not a factor in its decision.

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