Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Okay, it's been a minute...yep, there's another one

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
—H. L. Mencken

Ever wondered just how gullible people can be? Here’s a little experiment you can try to find out.

Change your name to Valentino Rossi. You don’t have to have it legally changed, but it shows real commitment if you do.

Now go to any motorcycle event. A race, a rally, the grand opening of a new bike shop. Walk around introducing yourself as Valentino Rossi. Bring along a box of T-shirts with your picture on them to sell. Offer to sign autographs. Remind everyone about that hairball pass you put on Casey Stoner in the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

About 10 minutes into this exercise you’ll notice people starting to edge away from you as if you were contagious. After 20 minutes someone will probably tap you on the shoulder and offer to take you to a nice quiet place for a long talk with a sympathetic person in a white coat.

And yet odds are you'll actually sell one or two T-shirts to people who don't know the difference between you and the real Valentino Rossi.

Crazy? You bet.

Now consider this. Every few years some entrepreneur drops a load of cash on the rights to the name of a motorcycle company that went belly-up years ago, cobbles together some unexceptional motorcycles out of a mélange of parts from a few chopper catalogs, or designs some off-the-wall wonderbike that will cost the gross national product of Luxembourg to bring to production, and proclaims the rebirth of a long and storied tradition.

What happens next is nothing short of miraculous. Before the first bike is even built—but not before a full line of shirts, hats, jackets, ashtrays, and key fobs is designed and marketed—customers with fistfuls of cash arrive, banging on the factory doors, clamoring to own a piece of reincarnated history.

Blinded by the barrage of large-caliber marketing hype, no one stops to think that if the motorcycle in question were any good in the first place, it wouldn’t need the name transplant. And if it isn’t any good, a fancy badge on the gas tank won’t save it from the obscurity it deserves.

And yet there they are, cash in hand, eyes alight with the fervor of the quest for validation through identification.

Who are these guys, anyway?

They’re the guys who bought those Valentino Rossi shirts with your picture on them.

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