Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is Harley riding off a cliff

Earlier this week it was announced that Harley-Davidson was parting ways with it's long-time ad agency, Carmichael Lynch. I've been a big fan of the work CL has done for Harley since day one. They took on the account when Harley was deep in bankruptcy and helped the brand find its focus through ads with headlines like "Would you sell an unreliable motorcycle to these guys?" over a visual of a prototypical motorcycle gang.

At their core, great brands always stand for one thing and only one thing. For Harley, that thing is the rebel in all of us. That's what made the brand successful.

Harley allows you to feel like a badass, without being bad. And that's a very powerful promise.

A lot of respectable dentists and lawyers buy Harleys because the brand adds an aura of danger to their otherwise normal suburban lives. It transports them – literally and figuratively – from the dull monotony of the everyday to a place where they're free. It's an archetypical need that resides deep within every one of us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

If Harley is walking away from this core belief in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, it's pure folly and destined to fail. This quote from Marketing Director, Mark-Hans Richer in Ad Age concerns me:

"We've had a good run with Carmichael Lynch over the past 31 years but as our brand has grown globally and with new, broader audiences and cultural opportunities... Our strategies have been moving away from a singular consumer target and a one-size-fits-all agency solution. Rather than accept this new reality, CL chose a different path and we respect that."

Yes, Harley is a global brand that needs to grow its ridership in places like Europe and China. But it won't do it by changing its brand to mirror the cultures of those markets. It will only succeed by being Harley, the iconic American Rebel motorcycle brand, everywhere it's sold.

Clearly, the folks at Carmichael know this and aren't willing to help destroy the brand they helped save 31 years ago.


  1. Mark-Hans Richer, the former CMO of the former GM brand Pontiac? Mark - hypen? - Hans? What is that? Who is that? Another 40-ish marketing douchebag who walks the walk and talks the talk and combs the hair that makes the vulnerable lovestruck clients swoon. Meanwhile, the true creative visionaries - at the former agency - are sent packing. Anyone surprised?