Has Ducati Built a Bridge Too Far with the Scrambler?

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Bologna is readying to debut the Ducati Scrambler ahead of the INTERMOT show, in case you missed the bevy of “spy” photos, the World Ducati Week unveil to attendees, the dedicated Tumblr website, the Instagram account, and the claymation animated video series…

A more modern riff on the Ducati models of the 1960’s, the 2015 Ducati Scrambler will unveil to the public in a couple weeks’ time, and the model is another motorcycle from Ducati that speaks to outside the core Ducatisti demographic. But, is the new Ducati Scrambler a bridge too far for the Italian brand?

I have talked before about Ducati’s process of brand extension as it related to the launch of the Ducati Diavel, as the iconic Italian brand moved past being a “sport bike brand” and into a robust full-feature motorcycle marque.

Since that writing, we have seen the breakdown of the Italian dream team that was Valentino Rossi and Ducati Corse in MotoGP, the floundering of Ducati’s World Superbike efforts with the Ducati 1199 Panigale superbike, a stagnation of the company’s yearly growth in terms of motorcycle sales volume, and the abandonment of Ducati’s iconic air-cooled motors (the Scrambler will likely be the last Desmo Due from Bologna).

Where Ducati Motor Holding crescendoed under the leadership of Gabriele del Torchio, growing constantly in unit sales, pushing into new market segments with ease, and debuting compelling new motorcycles year-after-year, this next stanza written by Claudio Domenicali has been more of a coda to Ducati’s symphony of progress.

Today I began working on a series of trade show preview articles, which will outline the forthcoming models at this autumn’s key motorcycle industry trade shows: INTERMOT, AIMExpo, EICMA, and Tokyo Motor Show. When I came to what Ducati would be debuting, it struck me that the company’s expected offerings felt unusually light.

Ducati has operated with the loose plan to debut a brand new model every year, with several model updates also debuting to keep the model lineup fresh. For the 2015 model year, we of course have the Ducati Scrambler as a new model, with updates perhaps coming for the Panigale as well.

A quick look at the rest of the lineup, and you would be hard pressed to find a machine that hasn’t been updated or introduced in the past few years, the notable exception being the Ducati Streetfighter 848, which is expected to disappear in the 2015 model year.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that we have much ado about the Ducati Scrambler, as Ducati’s full marketing intensity, and arguably its sales figures for the next year, are dependent on this machine. Pricing of course will be key, as Ducati’s aim is to have the Scrambler takeover where the Monster 696 left-off: as Ducati’s budget-minded model.

The bigger issue though might be the marketing around the Scrambler, which seems to focus around this idealized remembrance of the 1960’s. Decisively hipster in its communication, it is interesting to see Ducati reach out to a sub-culture that has cherry-picked into its ethos the most iconic elements of the past few generations, adding relatively few of their own along the way.

As we have seen with the iconography, and indeed with the claymation series, Ducati is trying to build both a bridge back towards an awkward time when the company made small-displacement scramble-style motorcycles, as well as a bridge to the future, where a courtship directed towards the Honda CB-obsessed motorcycle demographic resides.

The bridge backwards is of course about authenticity and acceptance, a message that the Ducati Scrambler is already part of the Italian company’s history, and thus automatically authentic to the brand. However, I challenge one to ask the next Ducati owner you see outside a Starbucks whether or not they identify themselves with PBR-drinking contingency.

Both demographics are idealistic, image-conscious, and massively militant about a life aesthetic, which makes them seemingly compatible at a high-level, but where the devil lies in the details, you couldn’t find more polar-opposite groups of two-wheeled enthusiasts, who approach their common passion from very different avenues.

Ducati as a company needs to bring in fresh blood to the brand, as does the industry as a whole, that much is understood. The problem however with a brand like Ducati’s is brand dilution through brand extension. Ducati has succeeded in its past brand extensions, with bikes like the Diavel and Multistrada, because they were the Italian company’s interpretations of existing marketing segments.

The Ducati Diavel is a performance cruiser, with actual performance. The Ducati Multistrada 1200 is an adventure-touring bike, with a superbike’s heart. It is not difficult for a hardcore Ducatisti find common ground with the bikes. Both machines might be a far cry from what loyal Ducatisti have in their garage, but the experience once on-board is very much the same.

That understanding seems to be lost however on the Ducati Scrambler, which is just that…a scrambler with the name “Ducati” stamped on its fuel tank. In a bid to bring in more riders to the Ducati family, my worry is that Ducati is inviting strangers to the dinner table.

Despite all the media leaks, social media sites, and buzz generation schemes that Ducati has put in place regarding the Scrambler, a clear anchor to the rest of the Ducati lineup has not been forged.

You can forgive that by saying that Ducati is in search of riders outside its current sphere of influence, but without that anchor, the brand is sure to drift farther down the river from its base, becoming more watered down with each passing moment.

At best, events like World Ducati Week will become a clashing of two divergent demographics, and at worst, it will mean the exodus of Bologna’s bedrock customers, many of whom have already taken to forums, Facebook, and Twitter with frustration over the Scrambler’s marketing language.

It will of course be interesting to see who actually buys a Ducati Scrambler once the bike is released. Will it be the internet savvy slim-jean wearing crowd that Ducati is showcasing on camping trips with its new Scrambler model? Or will the model be bought by a demographic that is more inline with Ducati’s Italian racing heritage.

The proof will be in the sales numbers of course, but we’ll get our first indications in a couple weeks’ time in Germany.

Photo: Instagram