Is this the end of the road for Harley Davidson?

Harley Davidson -  A brand that really shouldn't appeal to me
Harley Davidson - A brand that really shouldn't appeal to me

Harley Davidson is one of those brands you just have to have a bit of respect for. Kevin Roberts listed it as one of his Lovemarks brands, which are those brands that are apparently loved beyond all reason.

But then I started thinking about it and looking for more background reading. This great article here in the Central Penn Business Journal gives a lot more facts, of which the most fascinating to me is that the average age of their audience has gone from 38 to 46 in the last ten years.

And that’s the whole root of the problem. The reason I have got a bit of respect for it is that I have grown up at about the same rate. Ten years ago I was 33 and now I’ve got older too. They shouldn’t be targeting me as their core, they should be aiming at people ten years younger, so I feel slightly more uncomfortable with it.

Unless a brand manages to constantly innovate and find new reasons for new people to fall in love with it, it will just get continually staler and staler until the day that it eventually dies. There will always be the die-hard fans who love it beyond all reason, but as they age and die too, they get fewer and fewer.

So Harley Davidson needs to act fast and act very boldly or it is facing disaster. It needs to make itself cool for a younger audience again.

One way they could do this is by embracing social media, so I thought I would have a look at what was available on YouTube. The first video that Google threw up is here.

Great idea Harley Davidson, but when you get comments like this, you know your problems are more deep rooted.

‘WTF is this? A video showing ASIANS riding a HARLEY!? LOL! WTF! Well, this is a commercial video. BUT REALITY is: ASIANS don’t care about harley davidson motorcycles! ASIANS ride scooters and JAPANESE sportbikes! I am ASIAN, i personally ride sportbikes and dislikes american made harleys! Only old and fat ass americans ride those ugly cruisers! LOL!’

Backing Buell as their ‘new cool’ brand won’t be the answer either. For me, all this will do is split their marketing budget across two brands. Ultimately, this just makes your marketing more expensive. Buell isn’t a minor sub-brand, it’s a whole new name with a different set of differentiators and a different target audience.

So how should they do it?

For me, there are three simple ways, all of which use some form of social media channelling.

1. Get cool people riding them
Whilst not my cup of tea, getting a youth hero like Zac Efron, Ashton Kutcher or even Britney to get photographed riding one. Zac Effron is a bit of a nipple, in my opinion, but if you can buy ‘High School musical’ spectacles now, there has to be some huge youth power in their branding.

2. Get cool people Twittering and blogging about Harley
Ashton Kutcher is the most followed person on twitter, Britney is third, when they tweet, 5.65 million people listen. A little bit of their coolness would have to rub off.

A blogger outreach programme to find the most influential people in the blogosphere would pay massive dividends too and create a huge stir amongst the new younger target audience.

3. Stop fat old Americans riding them
Any of the previous role models need to be ditched. There must be a slash and burn policy for fat old and unhip people to get off their bikes. Start rumours they are too powerful for old people and make them feel like they are dad dancing with the wrong brand.

And then they have to get people like they have already, away from managing their brand. They have to get a young team to advise them on how to take it forward – even if it makes them feel very uncomfortable. There are certain things that 40+ year old men shouldn’t do. Try and be overtly cool is one of them. Harley Davidson is well into its 105th year and needs to start acting like an excited teenager again.

Good luck.


It would appear that Harley Davidson are indeed trying to capture a younger market by allowing their brand to be used in some fake ads in the youth Series True Blood. As has been reported by Rippin Kitten here. The great thing for me is that I was told about this article by Tony Long at Cultural Exception via Twitter. You can see his work here. This is what i love about Twitter. We can all learn from each other.

Not knowing the series, its hard to comment too specifically, but the look and feel is very Twilight and I know how much my 13 year old daughter loves this! Good work Harley, all you need to do now is get the fat blokes off your bikes.

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