18 April 2010

The Vespa: Loved vehicle or just good product placement?

Roman Holiday must have kicked it off. Then, it was probably the Mod movement in the 60’s which Quadrophenia is based on almost two decades or so later, giving the scooter a good jump-start in terms of interest. Since then, things haven’t actually died down. Vespas can be seen in numerous Hollywood movies as well as loads of different marketing campaigns around the world, in all shapes and forms.

In other words, it’s quite impressive.

The question lingering in my head is:

Is the Vespa’s popularity in modern culture due to its own attractiveness or merely due to good product placement by the marketing crowd at Piaggio & C. s.p.a.?

Take for instance the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. Not that there’s anything special with it. It’s just a place that I go to do my shopping on a regular basis.

As one enters the Red Mall and then make their way into Marks & Spencer’s ladies department, you’re faced with a picture of an 8 foot lady posing beside a pink Vespa LX (I think). Head into the men’s section in Debenhams and there’s Vespa galore in terms of Ben Sherman’s display.

Then, you might wander back to JD Sports to get some sports gear. There, you’d be hit by a barrage of Adidas gear and unsurprisingly, amongst the countless repro pieces they’d be the Adidas-Vespa range. Everything from trainers to €500 leather jackets produced by Adidas with Vespa logos glued or stitched onto them.

Initially, I thought it was cool and I wanted to get my hands on all the Adidas-Vespa gear. Nowadays, I’m quite undecided as to whether this collaboration is a good or bad thing. I mean, is it Adidas being creative by incorporating equally iconic names and images into their own products OR has the company dropped to a new low in terms of coming out with their own ideas, contented to piggyback off other brands’ ideas? Maybe it’s a bit of both. I don’t know.

Anyway, that’s not the end of Vespa spotting in Blanchardstown, of course. There’s just too many too list but the ones mentioned above should give a good idea of the scooter’s presence.

But why is all this important to me? Why?

It’s important because I need to know. Do I really like my Vespa because it really is a well designed, well engineered two-wheeled contraption or because like many today, have I succumbed to the dark, sinister ways of a masterful marketing strategy devised almost half a century ago (subliminal messages and all)? 

Well,I believe the answer might lie in Pontodera itself.

Based on Piaggio’s latest available accounts, the company spent almost €31.5m in 2009 (€38.3m in 2008) on advertising and promotions. As the Piaggio group’s portfolio is made up of other marks like Aprilia, Moto Guzzi and Gilera, we can’t simply assume that the full amount can be attributed to its Vespa division.

But, for arguments sake, let’s compare this to that of say, another brand that is well-known to spend significant amounts on its image, Guinness. Approximately €500m was spent by Diageo (that’s Guinness’ parent company) on marketing its products in Europe alone. €500m-that must be close to some countries’ annual budgets!

Yes, they’re totally different products and markets, but I suppose it does put the whole thing into perspective. Both Vespa and Guinness are universally known brands. The latter having spent arguably, 15 times more than the former to maintain its status. In a nutshell, even if Piaggio did spend a lot of money on marketing the Vespa, it surely couldn’t have done it on good product placement alone.

The only conclusion is the obvious one to most scooter enthusiasts: the Vespa is well-known all over the planet because of its timeless appeal to generations of people be it in Pontodera or Pontian, Saigon or Seattle.


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