How Honda rolled out a redesigned Gold Wing motorcycle with a digital campaign to capture younger riders

The Honda Gold Wing is known as the ultimate touring motorcycle. Unfortunately, it’s also known as a ‘couch on wheels,’ for its huge, comfortable styling.

So when Honda relaunched the Gold Wing recently with its first major redesign in 17 years, it also tackled a fundamental marketing problem: how to shed the Gold Wing’s plush image and reach a new generation of riders.

In the global launch campaign by agency of record Dailey, Honda has gone beyond just talking about features and tries to capture the emotions that come when riders hit the road. ‘What Lies Beyond’ is a departure from the typically product-first mindset of Honda motorcycle ads, instead leaning into the touring lifestyle’s spirit of adventure.

“The big challenge for us was to create a bike and a campaign that appealed to our existing customer base while also attracting a customer new to touring,” said Lee Edmunds, manager of Honda Powersports Marketing. “We think Dailey really hit the mark with the ‘Beyond’ campaign with videos that will appeal to both customer bases and a sense of exploration that will appeal to all.”

Both Honda and Dailey wanted to keep the bike’s loyal audience, but they’re trying to position of the Gold Wing as ‘not your grandfather’s touring bike,’ with technological advances like Apple CarPlay, an industry first, plus an available seven-speed automatic dual clutch transmission with handlebar-mounted paddle shifters. Plus, the notoriously heavy bike is lighter by nearly 90 pounds, though it features more power.

To get both the technical features across as well as the feeling people get when they ride the bike, Honda and Dailey leaned on both history and the future of riding a Gold Wing. A new microsite hosts five videos, including the ‘What Lies Beyond’ ode to the touring lifestyle and where people can ride, plus a product-centered piece and a ‘Beyond the Standard’ video (below) with interactive timeline celebrating the Gold Wing’s legacy and evolution from 1975 to the modern day. In addition, eight riding routes curated by Rever, a motorcycle trip planning app, are available for download and synced with the bike's onboard nav.

Reimagining a heritage bike

Planning for the bike launch and campaign began two years ago with what Dailey called a logging project. They gave 40 riders video cameras and they lived with them for a few weeks, tracking their rides and times on their bikes, which gave the brand and agency qualitative and quantitative research about what drives the passions of touring riders. That led to a creative brief and a story marketing campaign to tell the story of the product over time.

The research helped Dailey understand what is inside the heads of the people engaged, according to a Dailey spokesperson. “It celebrates the sense of discovery that touring is all about…to ignite the passions of interested consumers.”

The Gold Wing hadn’t had a full redesign since the ‘01 model years since last redesign, and that bike was designed to appeal to Baby Boomers, a generation now aging out of the prime demographic. Also, the market for motorcycles has gotten smaller, so Honda was looking to bring in a younger buyer. Not necessarily the usual coveted millennials, however. The Gold Wing is still a higher-end bike, so the primary audience would be a Gen X type, already a rider of a sport or street bike now entering a life stage where their kids are out of school, and they have the money to get closer to retirement.

“There’s a whole category called ‘adventure’,” said Edmunds, adding that the category is for people seeking new adventures when they ride. “The Gold Wing opened the doors to that possibility…it’s known for its performance and long distance reliability. The campaign became about the emotional experience, that feeling that you get when you’re on a bike.”

For a bike that’s been in the lineup for 43 years, Honda knew it had to start rebuilding the customer base. “For long-term growth, we needed to appeal to a younger rider. It’s a life stage purchase,” said Edmunds.

To reach the potential riders, they evoked the emotional experience that the Gold Wing provides while also giving them touring options through the website and mobile app.

“It made them want to go out and ride. We used younger talent in the ads. A lot of people like to think of themselves that way,” said Edmunds, noting that they tried to get away from the ‘couch on wheels’ feel and have people, when they first throw a leg over the bike, they realize that it’s very balanced. Part of the campaign was to show that the bike lost that weight, and the videos needed to show the bike on a performance road, so people would understand that it’s not just comfortable, it’s a high-performance machine.

“The Gold Wing is a performance touring bike. We had to break perceptions that it’s a bike for an old man,” concluded Edmunds.

Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle