The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Harley Davidson Isn’t About Freedom, It’s About A Nice Pair Of Slippers And A Pipe …
November 18, 2008, 6:26 am
Filed under: Comment

Harley Davidson are an icon – they’re a motorbike that has infiltrated the consciousness of society regardless of age, wealth, sex, geography or interest in motor vehicles.

Of course some of this status has been achieved by things that occurred outside of the brands direct influence/control [the ‘Acts of God’ as I like to call them] but still, when you take into account that it’s not the best bike in the World … nor the most efficient … nor the most practical for daily urban use … you realize how powerful the emotional value of a brand can be in overcoming more rational obstacles.

Given this consistency in brand approach/identity, you’d think this is one of the most carefully managed brands in the World but I don’t think it is …

OK, so the actual product has been pretty stable in its execution over the decades, but there’s been more than one occasion where – like Ferrari – they’ve fallen into the [ego] trap of licensing.

Don’t get me wrong, licensing can be a fantastic way to create new revenue channels as well as extend the presence and awareness of a brand, but when you sell your name to anyone/anything, you are in danger of fucking up the long term value of your brand just for the sake of a couple of quarters heightened profit.

[I know I’ve said it before, but I never understood how Harley – a brand that represents ‘freedom’ – could go out and put their name to a range of bloody watches given they’re a device created for ‘time management/awareness’. Talk about a complete clash of purposes!]

Before people start slagging me off for being a purist, I’d like to point out that I think I’m far more intune with the demands of brand and profit than many in Adland … however strategy is there for a reason and whilst there has to always be a degree of flexibility, it shouldn’t mean you can go off and do something directly opposed to the companies direction/philosophy just because you think you can make a couple of extra bucks.

I think one of the reasons this sort of thing happens is that brand managers spend such a small amount of time in their job before moving on and doing something else.

I believe the average length of time for a brand manager is 18 months which means they will either [1] do nothing different because they don’t want to be known as ‘the person who fucked up’ or [2] they do lots of things different because they want to be known as ‘the person who made big changes’.

Of course there are strengths and weaknesses to both of these characters, but it would seem the guys currently running Harley fall into the latter, because they have just launched an ad campaign – admittedly in image-obsessed Asia – which makes the licensing of a watch look practically sensible compared to this shit …

No, it’s not the visual I’m upset about – though that is pretty crap, especially as the image of the brand is often driven through iconic imagery tapping into the ‘freedom’ essence – it’s the copy of the ad that bothers me most.

Let me re-type it for you …

“You’ve taken over the helm of companies, assuming countless roles in the span of your corporate life. But none are as exhilarating as taking the helm of a Harley Davidson Softball Rocker C [TM].

You’ll know the moment you catch a glimpse of its imposing form. When you feel the power of its engine.

When you experience the strength of its drive. It gives you a sense of freedom that changes you. And once you’ve taken the seat on a Harley, that’s when you realize that it’s not a position, it’s a privilege.”

Holy crap, who wrote this shit?

Apart from the fact it’s been written using some of the worst [and most pretentious] grammar since Yoda … it just is so off bloody brand.

Yes, those 2 horrible ‘planner type’ words that are the scourge of every creative – but in this situation, absolutely appropriately used!

Now whilst I’m sure some planner would like to argue a life of freedom is a life of privilege, that’s not what this ad is trying to say … if it was, they would not of talked about things like ‘taking over the helm of companies’ or ‘corporate life’.

Corporate life?

Harley Davidson?

Jesus, they’ll be talking about how their bikes have storage capacity for a set of fucking golf clubs next.

It’s bad enough they put ‘TM’ after the product name, but to blatantly link the brand to ‘white collar management’ is beyond fucking belief. It just smacks of a company going after sales regardless of the implications, and whilst cash flow is vital – especially in these economic times – to basically turn your back on the essence of your brand is nothing short of scandalous … especially when the positioning they embrace is about as polar opposite to what Harley is about as you can get.

Of course the fact is a load of Harley owners probably are CEO’s and accountants – lets face it, they are the only fuckers who can afford them – however by actively bursting the bubble of illusion, delusion and unspoken truth that has kept that brand prospering for decades, they are acting in a way that is probably going to be more beneficial for their competitors than their own brand.

Forget Born To Be Wild … it would seem in Asia, Harley Davidson’s new positioning is Born To Be Mild.

27 Comments so far
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Honesty in advertising is to be applauded.

Comment by John

Maybe not.

Comment by John

Brilliant post. I could add to this as I sold them once a year or so and while I think wankers ride them I’d still probably have a Sportster if given the chance. I realise what this makes me.

On a more pro note I think it’s the community of riders and events that fulfill Harley Riders. Everybody wants to be associated with bad asses at some time in their life. That and even money chicks know it’s a bike that costs a few dollars more and thus have a propensity to whip ’em off thus maintaining the bad ass illusion.

Actually as bikes go they are poop according to my brother who used to rebuild vintage models and races Japanese at weekends. I believe he likes Ducatis and Moto Guzzi for the stylish end of leisure riding.

Comment by Charles Frith

I really should type more sloooowly.

Comment by Charles Frith

born to be mild. fuck me campbell thats quite a nice line, where dya steal it because theres no way in fuck it came from you.

bad boy associations are fucking powerful for brands and yet most companies want mickey fucking mouse type positionings because they dont want to upset anyone. do they fucking know what a brand is? it should cause division, it should cause debate, it should cause unwavering loyalty or unnatural hate. fuck me what the fuck is going on with this beige world which is why i fucking love swatchs “007 villains” series of watches. fucking great even if i would be seen dead in one of their neon plastic picaso inspired blobs of time crap. the end

Comment by andy@cynic

Not that you’re always right in your comments about me Mr Boucher, but sadly on this occasion you are because I got the “Born To Be Mild” from the TV show, Cold Feet.

I’ll go get my coat shall I?

Comment by Rob

Oh I don’t know Mr Dodds, remember this …

… plus you’re talking to the guy who believes in unplanning …

Great points Mr Charles – I’d be interested to know what you found was your best strategy to flog the bikes and how much ‘delusion’ was going on in the potential purchasers heads.

Was this in Asia or the US because I would imagine there would be a different set of triggers in the motivation of purchase, or at least subtle differences between the cultures.

Comment by Robert

I was selling to US troops in Germany Rob. It was a piece of cake. They came in and told me what extra mudflaps they wanted on it.

But seriously they were a bunch of red neck tools in the main or some Colonel who wanted to get his cock back after leaving it in the army payroll corp or with his slightly stubbly missus.

Nice points Andy. I think some briefs should be about who the advertising should piss off. I think brands, proper brands should often be divisive. That’s why political ones like the Dems and the GOP work so well. Even though they are often the same coporate cock sucking self serving parties.


Comment by Charles Frith

Oh. I’m on fire this morning.Oh yeah.

Comment by Charles Frith

So you won’t be interested in launching Apple’s new corporate clothing line then? 🙂

This is a great post and it’s a serious issue but your blog has been ranting about this sort of thing for years so any comment I make would only be preaching to the converted.

I know someone at Harley in Milwaukee so I’ll send them a link to this post and see what they say. I hope they’ll agree with you’ve written because otherwise I’d have to reevaluate who I am friends with.

You’ve been writing some good posts this week Robert, well good and relevant posts. I wonder if you can last the week?

Comment by Bazza

Oooooh I like the idea of that Baz, make sure you do it and as long as he doesn’t send his Hells Angels around, I’d be happy to hear his comments.

And Andy you’re a shit because I was going to write a post on those genius ‘007 Enemy’ Swatch watches because the concept is bloody brill – but now I have to reconsider because I know you’ll be taking credit for it and I can’t make your head any bigger than it is now. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Well said Andrew, excellent post Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

Bond villains drink tea lattes, surely a truer indicator of pure evil.
Great post though. I got a free Ferrari cap with £30 of fuel in September. It languished in my car boot until he day I played my once a year round of ham-fisted golf. I got to the course to realise it was a blazing hot day and with nothing to protect my shiny head, the Ferrari cap came out for the full 18 holes.
I looked so cool.

Comment by northern

And you had the nerve to take the piss out of my fashion perspective NP? 🙂

Comment by Rob

Enforced cap wearing doesn’t count.

Comment by northern

How convienient.

BTW, I absolutely loved your Boris Becker post – I liked it so much that it inspired to take that topic on which you can read to your complete dismay on Thursday.

Now stop writing on my bloody blog and answer the A[P]SOTW assignments, I never keep our eager beavers waiting like this 🙂

Comment by Rob

Like Basil Fawlty said, “I’m doing it”

Comment by northern

You nick lines from TV shows, you take blogpost ideas from Andy and NP and finally you claim
you never kept the eager beavers waiting when, in reality, this was because you got other people to do the judging! Brillaint work.

p.s. How many Harley riders are actually rebellious?

Comment by John

People think that licensing is a route to easy profits – well, maybe it is – but not FAST ones, and not CHEAP opnes either. Any good licensing agent will tell you that it takes a minimum of 18 months – 2 years to see any profit (indeed any MONEY really) – and you have to invest in getting the package off the gorund and marketed as well.

Perhaps this is why it always feels so poor – people go into it blind and then try to speed the whole thing up – it never meets their expectations and so it just becomes an underperforming embarrassment that no-one wants to deal with.

Comment by Tom

Conservatism dressed as rebellion, such a western trait.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Could you argue that being off brand but on target is what happened in this case? if the type of buyer is actually one who works corporate gigs and he feels they are talking to him, it could lead to sales.

As stated above the community and the riders fullfil and keep intact the brandpromise. And seeing as other peoples opinions and actions dictate ours, it’s important to reel them in and then brainwash them. chances are whoever buys a harley has had contact with a rider. an magazine ad, no matter how blend, would play a minor role in his purchase decision.

I get the point that this is probably a symptom of wider ills and that details/micro interactions are very important and that tone is important (motrin anyone), but this ad adds nothing nor detracts nothing.

On the other hand I’d go around and give every company free harleys to ride for months and save myself the trouble of ads.

I’d prove to you that you indeed get laid more and feel badder. then I’d take it away and have you want/need to get one. cheaper and easier.

Comment by Niko

andrew lloyd weber must be breathing a great big fucking sigh of relief now inspector dodds has cracked the case of the thieving blogging bastard and taken the heat of the pug ugly thieving composer.

i like you niko but youre in danger of justifying like a client so stop it and spend more time on ideas like your fucking gold mandela one which auntie george still is fucking sitting on even after earache bashings from yours truly and the blog post stealer.

and tom sounds like he knows what the fuck hes talking about but then i ask why the fuck he would be wasting his time on this pile of shite plus were raking in the coin from licensing our biscuit tea mug so his 2 year rule can be mocked like a ginger haired adopted dwarf in a mosh pit.

cold feet? the fucking shame of it all campbell

Comment by andy@cynic

The little ones are always the cheekiest Andy you twat.

Comment by Tom

Bursting the illusion is dangerous for the brand. The whole reason middle-aged white collar workers buy Harleys is to ESCAPE the boring lives they lead.

The last thing their ad writers should do is REMIND the reader of the boring life he leads. Rather, they should paint a picture of leaving it all behind… on a Harley.

Comment by Ryan Healy

Andy, I can’t learn anything if I just agree with everything..

but I get the point.

Comment by niko

finally a real man on this blog. welcome to the fucking family tom. and niko theres no point arguing for the fucking sake of it because you see it as learning and others just see it as an opinionated little fuck. look at how campbell is seen. do you really want that? youd better fucking say no.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s so nice to wake up and find you’ve been character assasinated … great way to start the day 🙂

Comment by Rob

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