Polaris Industries (NYSE:PII) is going Hollywood. The powersports vehicle manufacturer signed on as a "Premier Partner" for a new racing and action-adventure film in development called Soul Drift that will showcase several Polaris brands.
Because the movie is a "coming of age" film, Polaris is hoping the younger audience demographic will want to buy its vehicles, several of which are scheduled to be featured.
Wooing and wowing the kids
It's easy to see any number of Polaris' brands making their way onto the big screen. Since the main character is described as having grown up "racing on the rural roads of the Midwest," Polaris' off-road vehicles like its RZR side-by-side would certainly fit. And as the character progresses to "the high octane tracks of drift racing," slipping into a Slingshot three-wheeler would add a different element to the racing scene. And maybe in his down time, the lead just kicks back by ripping around town on an Indian Scout.
The right movie could help juice sales a bit, though investors shouldn't count on a big surge following the film's eventual release. I'm not sure Nissan or Mazda enjoyed any real bounce from their cars' appearance in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Yet done correctly, it could lend a coolness factor to Polaris vehicles that might pique the interest of some.
Change is needed
Certainly on the motorcycle side, Polaris and the industry need to begin attracting a younger demographic. As the performance of Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) has made abundantly clear, if more young riders aren't brought into the sport, sales will continue to decline.
Last quarter, Harley's U.S. sales plunged 11%, and it's planning on shipping even fewer bikes to dealers this year than it did in 2017, which itself was down from the year before. Harley also wants to bring in new riders, aiming for 2 million over the next 10 years, but right now its big plan seems to be an electric motorcycle.
Polaris, however, fared significantly better than its rival did, seeing retail sales for its Indian Motorcycle brand rising 17% for the quarter while industry sales for heavyweight bikes 900 cubic centimeters and larger fell by high-single-digit rates. Even the Slingshot saw renewed demand, with sales significantly elevated from the year-ago period.
It's in the off-road vehicle market where the powersports vehicle maker needs more help. Polaris reported that side-by-side sales fell by low-single-digit percentage rates with ATV sales flat, even as industrywide sales were up by low-single-digit percentages. It's possible this is a lingering effect of the recurring product recalls that Polaris' RZR and off-road vehicles have suffered over the past two years.
A star turn
In the scheme of trying to help boost sales, appearing in a movie can't hurt, especially if the product is going to receive significant screen time. The terms of Polaris Industries' involvement in this movie were not released, but as a different strategy for the powersports vehicle maker to reach out to a more youthful demographic it could be useful.
In announcing the participation of Polaris in the feature film, the press release noted, "This paradigm will be on screen and off, tapping into social media, real world activations, marketing and merchandising opportunities." It sounds like this won't simply be analogous to the lead actor drinking a can of Coke with the label facing the camera.
This product placement appears to be much more pervasive. There will apparently be real-time events that have the potential to generate social media traction to reach those younger viewers Polaris hopes will eventually become buyers. There might not be action figures included in Happy Meals like you'd find with the latest Star Wars release, but the promise of merchandising opportunities suggests there will be plenty of swag going around to raise consumer consciousness of the film's appeal.
Who knows -- maybe Soul Drift can do for Polaris what Easy Rider did for Harley-Davidson and motorcycles back in 1969. Sales for choppers reportedly soared following the appearance of the Captain America bike in 1969, but then again, Harleys have regularly been featured in movies, from the Terminator franchise to more recent blockbusters like Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, and as we know, it hasn't moved the needle on sales.
It's a slightly different tactic that Polaris is pursuing here, as the attempt is a direct appeal to a younger crowd. It's one worth trying, but investors shouldn't expect sales to move appreciably higher as a result.