Wednesday, August 03, 2011

From Rome (and Signalwriter) #5: In America, Vespa Lives and Rides On…

The latest issue of “Blurb,” the electronic newsletter from PAN Advertising in Rome, was sent out in the middle of the second quarter. There are neat articles from PAN’s Dialogue affiliates in the Aprile-Maggio 2011 number.

PAN’s General Manager, Gianfranco Vallana, sent us all a nice email: “With the second issue we got a significant improvement in the opening (58%) and the number of unique visitors (+22%). About 1,000 marketers in Italy now are becoming aware of Dialogue. We are sure that this is a good first step to market Dialogue in this country.”

Here is what my contribution had to say:

It is not likely that much will change America’s gasoline consumption level (and the free-range lifestyle that goes with it) anytime soon. At least one company is trying, though – another Italian classic brand called…Vespa.

The terrific, iconic motor scooter company, part of Piaggio, opened up a new pitch in 2008, complete with fresh website and advertising. Paolo Timoni, President and CEO, Piaggio Group Americas, said at the time, “It’s the practical side of Vespa ownership, such as the ability for every consumer to save $6,000 per year by reducing their wheel count from eight to six, that this campaign focuses on.”

This push is ongoing – the current website edition stresses VESPANOMICS – THE ROAD TO SAVINGS with plenty of room left over for the snappy models. (A personal favorite would be the GTV 300 model which seems to have enough muscle to overcome my fears about looking dorky.)

It will take a Superman to change enough American minds to make a difference. Sheer numbers are a big problem. There is poor market penetration here. One overviewer, Motor Scooter Shopper, notes:

There are many reasons for the scooter market being the way it is, but for the most part it’s due to the American scooter market being but a small fraction of the overall world scooter market (as opposed to the American automobile market being a large chunk of the world automobile market). In 2007 there were only 1 million registered scooters in the US, compared to over 30 million in Europe alone. How many scooters are being used in Asia is unknown…but it’s safe to assume the total number in Asia far surpasses even the Europe number.

Also, attempting to control accident rates, state and local jurisdictions have begun strengthening motorcycle laws to include the milder-performing scooters. Vespas and other motorini used to …drive under the radar, so to speak: riding one around town was pretty casual. Now there is a growing “hassle factor” involved in owning and operating a motor scooter.

Vespa is working on these challenges and change is coming. Still, appealing to economic sense seems a less likely pathway to success than pushing harder on the neat, cool and fun aspects. Check back with us in a decade to see how Vespa’s brand share is doing here.

Thanks to my excellent PAN colleagues and their audience throughout Italy. For previous “Blurb” posts – in English and Italian – type From Rome in the search box, upper left and press Enter.


Donna Bautch said...


I would be interested to know the percentage of scooter owner/operators rather than just the number registered.

My aunt of 61 enjoys her scooter very much. They have their own club “The Scooter Hogs” and meet 1-2 times a week for a ride.

As for me, I’ll stick to my Harley.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

LOL, Donna - if I had a Harley I'd stick with it too. That being said, a Vespa is quite the item in the big cities. Kudos to your aunt of 61...

Graham Rust said...

Great posting and I love Vespa. Interesting though, that the scooter is the vehicle of choice for economically challenged developing countries (those shots of a family of five on one scooter). Are we going to see a rise in US demand for solar cooking pots, and hand-cranked radios? Wouldn't be a bad thing! Love from Prague. Graham

Richard Laurence Baron said...

What you would see - presuming I ever bought one which I would love to do - is the ridiculous difference in scale: me+Vespa versus the lovely young woman+Vespa in the ad. I estimate her height at about 4' 10" - say 150 centimeters. Best back at all of you. Richard