Motorcycle Maker to Marketing Team: Don't Keep It to Yourself

  |  August 10, 2009   |  Comments

For one Oregon company, a tolerance for leaks yields surprising results.

Loose lips might sink ships, but they can also generate publicity. That's the lesson learned by Brammo PowerCycles, an Oregon company developing electric motorcycles.

In May, Brammo spent nearly $18,000 to win an auction on eBay. It won the company access to 40 interns from advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Soon afterward, according to Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher, the company informed the interns they need not keep their efforts secret. He said the same freedom was granted to teams working for Brammo at public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

"We asked them both for as much transparency as feasible with potential customers and anybody involved with our production," Bramscher said. "That was the first thing that set the trend of our relationships with our media partners: to create a transparent view of what we were doing."

Despite the urge for openness, Bramscher and his colleagues were somewhat surprised when they discovered the creative teams really took to heart the transparency thing. The interns, in particular, were discussing their work online, showing off ideas for possible Brammo images and other work that hadn't been approved, or even seen, by Brammo execs. "We saw some comps of our logo long before the agency principals showed it to us," Bramscher said. "It was a leak. We talked about having some level of transparency within the organization, but I think the principals at Crispin Porter + Bogusky were surprised we'd seen most of their presentation before they presented it to us."

The unauthorized spreading of information wasn't exactly what Brammo had in mind with its call for transparency, the CEO said. "Our intention was they could show us their work early-on, unedited," he said. "What they ended up doing was showing it to everyone."

That type of behavior would have gotten people fired several years ago, Bramscher said. However, when executives at the agencies and at Brammo saw the leaks were creating significant buzz about the Brammo cycles, they decided to go along for the ride. "Instead of putting the kibosh on it, we realized there was some value to it," Bramscher said. "We got feedback from prospective customers that we wouldn't have received and we're getting that feedback much earlier in the process. It's something that is changing the way we are doing business."

Although Bramscher believes the "leaks" ended up bringing extra attention to Brammo, which has plans to sell its cycles at Best Buy stores, he acknowledged there is a danger to allowing unbridled freedom. "We had one incident in which somebody assumed a date that we were going to be in Best Buy stores and announced we were going to be in the Portland store that day. But it wasn't true," he said.

Chris Elliott, a Weber Shandwick group manager involved with the Brammo account, attributed much of the unapproved blabbering to the ages, energy and online lifestyles of the interns. "Part of it is the enthusiasm around the brand and product," he said. "But what happens is, when you start spending more and more of your life integrated with social media, the lines get blurred."

Noting "there was also a photo shoot that was held without Brammo knowing about it and some other items," such as entries on the blog Clutterboard, Elliot said the Brammo case raises some interesting questions. Many people, especially young adults, have no reservations about disclosing even highly personal information on social networks and blogs. Should companies try to force them to change or should they just hope for the best?

"It's one of those things. You can either embrace it or fight it," Bramscher, noted. "We decided to embrace it."

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