Kawasaki Motorcycle Ad Campaigns of the 1970s

"Let the Good Times Roll" and "We Know Why You Ride"

Kawasaki 1977 ad in Motorcyclist
Kawasaki's "We Know Why You Ride" Z1R ad as seen in the December 1977 issue of Motorcyclist.©Motorcyclist

Back in the 1970s, print media and television were the undisputed kings of reaching customers for companies like Kawasaki, and uttering words like "internet," "data" and "social media" would probably earn you nothing but blank stares. So by harnessing the power of television and print magazines like Motorcyclist, Kawasaki had already launched two advertising campaigns, "Come Out Ahead On a Kawasaki" in 1972 and "Let the Good Times Roll" in 1973. Now it was time for the next step. In order to reach the most avid enthusiasts, advertising agency J. Walter Thompson created the "We Know Why You Ride" campaign for 1977.

Kawasaki's KZ650 ad.
Kawasaki's KZ650 ad.©Motorcyclist
"We Know Why You Ride" ad
"We Know Why You Ride"©Motorcyclist

Unlike the previous two campaigns, which built Kawasaki’s brand image for general audiences, “We Know Why You Ride” drilled straight into the veins of diehard motorcyclists like a double shot of espresso. “The silent road shimmers with sunshine and challenge,” started one ad. “You wrap your legs a little more aggressively around the sleek, pulsing power beneath you. And then the day explodes. Walk the curve, become the bike, rule the road.” Other ads burrowed deep into the technology that real riders care about: rpm; quarter-mile acceleration; power-to-weight ratio; rake and trail; and center of gravity.

Launched just in time for Kawasaki’s full transition to building four-stroke street bikes, and the new LTD model range, the campaign ran for two years in magazines read by young enthusiasts, firmly establishing how Kawasaki connects with highly passionate riders. These words were written over 40 years ago, but they’re still valid today: “We know why you ride. You’ve told us. And it’s the same reason Kawasaki builds bikes. Not assembly line piles of sprockets, chains and gears. Ideas. The essence of motion. The reason to ride. Performance machines that sing with the finely tuned joy of an engine embracing a road. Kawasaki.”

Television advertising allowed for even more dramatic development of this theme, with one particular Robert Abel & Associates-produced commercial, “The Ultimate Trip,” showing scenery flashing past while vibrantly changing colors through early computer graphics technology. “Kawasaki introduces a full line of fast, dependable four-stroke road bikes that will take you down any road the mind can travel,” said the narrator. Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the 30-second spot intended to imitate the vivid sense of freedom that motorcycling delivers, but its “psychedelic” nature soon got it censored by at least two networks! Even so, the “We Know Why You Ride” campaign proved yet again that Kawasaki was driven by passion.