Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a blog entry about the EXACT same decision process as both my BMW Owners Association (BMWOA) membership and my Harley Owners Group, or H.O.G. membership were both nearing their annual expiration / renewal point.
I let the BMWOA membership lapse shortly after I penned that blog entry. Leading up to that blog entry, I had sold off the ’04 BMW R1150RT in 2010 and nearly sold off my ’03 BMW R1100S after “losing my moto mojo” which would had been the end of a 35-year relationship with motorcycles. Thankfully, I got my “moto mojo” back in July 2010 after jumping back on the BMW while my truck was in the body shop for a little touch-up. Little did I know how fateful that decision was. You see, by regaining my moto mojo I set myself up for a future shift to the Dark Side of the motorcycle enthusiast world: V-Twin cruisers from the Motor Company!
I blame / thank the lovely Miss Debbie for luring me over as I had no idea that she was secretly possessed by the Dark Side during our first 18-years of wedded bliss. Oh, there were subtle signs, but I brushed them off. However, when we finally introduced ourselves to a couple who we’d politely acknowledged across the bar as fellow Friday night regulars at On the Border for several years, all it took was six little words to change my perspective on motorcycling; “Y’all need to get a Harley.” A few weeks later we found ourselves sitting on a 2011 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide in the Earl Small showroom ready to go all-in and without a test ride since I was pretty sure I’d hate riding the thing; I was, after all, a motorcycle enthusiast… not a biker.
Yeah, well with two Harley-Davidson’s sitting in the garage I’m still not a biker, but I like riding those things and I’ll be darned if I know why. Oh that’s right, because they’re stupid fun, comfortable, and we’ve met a bunch of wonderful people over on the Dark Side. And that brings me to H.O.G., the HOG Magazine and my soon to lapse, second complimentary one-year HOG membership.
For those who don’t know, when you buy a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle you are given a one-year complimentary membership to the Harley Owner’s Group. I received one when I bought our Wide Glide in July of 2011, and then received another or perhaps it was a renewal when I bought our Road King CVO in August of last year. I’ll have to assume that I paid for at least one renewal since my current membership won’t technically expire until January 2015. I think I may have renewed just so I’d have something to read in the downstairs’, uh… reading room as the articles weren’t nearly as wordy as the ones in the BMWOA’s “Owner News” or ON magazine.
Now, let me be clear… I have no problem with HOG as a collection of great folks who enjoy spending time on and off the bike with like-minded people. HOG is easily one of the largest fraternities in the world. If I had more free time, that entire aspect of HOG would probably come into focus. No, this is really a blog entry that was inspired by the HOG magazines that have been hitting my mailbox which, at least for me, is about all I get out of my membership at the moment. So, consider this is a rant of sorts….
As I leafed through the most current edition of HOG, #027 for 2014, I came to realize that other than perhaps the optional roadside assistance program, I just wasn’t HOG material. I blame my cynical nature and critical eye for part of that and my genuine dislike for overzealous marketing by people who are first and foremost marketeers and secondarily whatever they need to morph into to hype whatever it is they’re selling.
HOG’s magazine is perhaps a thing of beauty to those who make their living spinning product, coming up with ridiculous product nicknames and otherwise fluffing up and word smithing the life and soul out of anything that might actually be useful information. It truly is, at times, printed Kool Aid for the Harley-devotee. By the way, for those who don’t know, HOG magazine is published five times a year by a marketing and communications firm based in Milwaukee called GS; it’s a very high-end looking firm which explains the very polished and marketing-heavy feel of HOG magazine.
Just to make my point about the heavy marketing that I see in every HOG magazine, here are a couple observations from the most recent edition:
1. Adverts: There is only one true ad in the entire magazine where there’s not a bar & shield to be seen; a full-page ad for Weber grills. But wait, Weber is a partner with Harley-Davidson, just as is every other business that has an ad in the HOG magazine. So, it’s a bit of a ruse.
2. Ball Boys: This one caught my attention. Once again, we have the MOCO doing a partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers where, in addition to covering the stadium with H-D branding, the game ball is carried to the starting pitcher by a rider on a Harley-Davidson. I’m sure when it first started back in 2008 it was a pretty cool thing that really excited the fans. However, just watching a short video where the guy riding the bike wore a Google Glass while making the circuit, I’d say the marketing stunt has lost it’s luster for all but the first timers:
In Ball Boys, Harley’s eMarketing specialist Dan brought out the game ball wearing his Doc Martins, some non-prescription Horned Rimmed Glasses, a brand new shiny H-D helmet, heavy leather H-D jacket (noting that everyone else in the stadium is wearing short sleeves) a top the Rushmore Street Glide “project bike”. Dan’s all over the internet and social media, which is what you’d expect from your Senior eMarketing specialist. But, I gotta tell ya, his Foursquare tips remind me of just how old and out of touch with younger folks and social media I am. Anyway, like the video, if you look at the pitcher next to Dan and the crowd, this act has grown tired… even in the MOCO’s backyard.
3. Recall Basics: This one’s great. On Page 16 Harley’s media department likely penned an article that tells the 2015 Rushmore owners why Recalls are a necessary evil that actually help to “maximize safety and ensure a worry-free H-D ownership experience.” Nice attempt at damage control; I’m sure my buddy Bobby — who’s 2015 Limited waterhead is back in for yet another recall as I write this — is feeling quite safe and really enjoying a worry-free H-D ownership experience. Remember, as a HOG member, we’re paying for content like this!
4. The End of Anarchy: Good grief, pimping your own product placement advertising deals? There’s a similar pimp job on a Livewire product placement in an upcoming Marvel Studio’s Avenger movie. Once again, pure marketing content that we pay to have written and delivered to us under the guise of “news”. There are many, many more “articles” throughout the mag that pimp H-D motor clothes, stereo systems, new bikes, etc. Hardly a surprise; too bad there aren’t any good product comparisons: H-D would actually come out on top in a lot of those; a missed opportunity to actually provide useful info.
5. More Rush & Cruiser Face: Harley spends a fortune on some really first class photo shoots, but you’d never guess that anyone actually enjoys riding a new Harley because the models in the ads always look bored, er… like serious dudes and dudettes who aren’t to be messed with. Geze-o-pete, just put ’em all in full-face helmets. That “bad-ass” cruise face thing is getting old. Hell, I’ve got two people in my neighborhood who also ride and neither one will “break character” when they ride in and out of the neighborhood always alone. Trust me, we know you’re not bad-asses… not living in this neighborhood. Me, I’m the guy who usually smiles except when I’m concentrating, waves and likes to ride two up with my beautiful smiling wife aboard… kinda like some of the “real owners” that appear in HOG member submittals… which are usually pretty good reading even if they have been over-edited by the HOG staff.
6. New Model Year “Tech” Articles: These are works of art, as I’m really not sure how you write a few hundred words about several new motorcycles without including any technical specs, performance information or pricing data. Well, that’s not true, they include some meaningless wattage numbers and speaker dimension and talk about moving handlebars and other parts around by a few inches, but without a baseline for reference and comparison. OH, but you can find all of the specs on the H-D website! Go go and visit our site and consume more of our marketing material!
7. Finding the Right Fit: This is actually a great article! Bike fit is a hugely important thing, especially for people who aren’t in the right percentile for the motorcycle that they think they’d like to ride but that doesn’t really fit. However, what the article neglects to mention is that “getting a proper fit” will cost you a small fortune since you’ll need to replace the parts you bought with your bike with new and expensive aftermarket parts! No, there’s no trade-in or parts swapping here. So, is there a useful pricing guide that goes along with those “what to change” recommendations? Of course not; that would be pretty sobering. And, just when did someone decide to redefine what “motorcycle profiling” is? It’s not a riding position, it’s what law enforcement does when it targets motorcyclists for traffic stops merely because of how they look and what they’re riding. Apparently someone decided that the expression needed to be given a bit of polish so it’s now used to describe riding a motorcycle with poor posture. Don’t get me wrong, my 2011 Wide Glide is a low-rider and my Road King CVO ain’t that far off with its very low saddle. But, profiling??? Really…. go buy a friggin dictionary.
8. Electric 66: I love this feature piece on the LiveWire for a couple of reasons. The photography is really well done, the guy who was featured in and who wrote the article has some street cred and I really do like the electric motorcycle movement and technology. However, perhaps the most amazing thing about this article — which is also just as devoid of any technical specs or useful information regarding the LiveWire and the earlier pieces — is how it creates the illusion that the author covered great distances and enjoyed the open road on the LiveWire in a way that was just as liberating as your gas-powered hog. But, there’s just one thing: the LiveWire pre-production bikes only have a 53-mile range and recharging the battery takes 3.5 hours, about 3 hours longer than it would take to suck that battery dry again if you were to use the power instead of range setting. No, no mention of watts, range, recharging or any other contextual information in HOG.
Now, to be fair, there’s still a lot of good content — most of which comes from HOG member contributions — even in issue number 027. If I do decide to renew, it’s only because I do like seeing how other Harley owners capture their adventures with a keyboard and camera. Obviously, I’m way over the top when it comes to capturing my life as a Harley owner and motorcycle enthusiast with a keyboard. In fact, some folks wonder how I have time for a life as many hours as I put into my blogs. Well, it’s something of a curse in that I type pretty darn fast… and use all 10 digits to boot! Not bad for an old dude who’s not in IT!
But, I gotta tell ya… I’m really not feeling the club love with this HOG magazine. If it was something the MOCO sent out for free to every owner, then I’m OK with all of the in your face, constant brand image, marketing and lack of useful content. However, when I’m dropping $45/year for this rag, I need more than glossy paper, nice photography and non-stop H-D marketing.
And, one parting shot. I’m waiting to see the recall of a large quantity of the HOG Magazine Issue #027 as mine can’t be the only one that arrived with a bunch of pages that didn’t get bonded in to the spine of the magazine! Sure, I could make some jokes about Harley quality, but those always come too close to home!