Tuesday, October 27, 2009
As a symbol of brawny industrial power, no-nonsense technological prowess, and pure American individualism, it would be difficult to surpass the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Even as flagship Americans products, from automobiles to television sets, were overtaken, outdesigned, and outmarketed by competitors from Asia and Europe, the Harley stood defiantly apart, refusing to give an inch, much like its famous champions, the Hell’s Angels-style bikers of modern legend. At least that was the image most people held after nearly two decades of ambitious product development by the company, helped along by generally inspired advertising from its agency. And as demand for the highpriced motorcycles exceeded supply, the company launched a line of ‘‘genuine’’ Harley-Davidson accessories and clothing, including cigarettes and cologne. These marketing successes, however, came at a cost. Potential Harley buyers, unable to ride away on the bike they wanted and unwilling to wait the average two years until it became available, were turning to Japanese brands. Japanese companies had begun marketing a line of Harley clones, heavy cruising bikes designed to capture the low-slung style of the classic Harley, sometimes with more power and features. At the same time,Harley’s very success in selling to a wider market was causing some of its core riders to question the company’s commitment to its values. Company research found that ‘‘a small but vocal group of core riders are saying that Harley is ‘selling out.’’’ To counter this trend, a new advertising campaign was launched in 1997. The campaign, dubbed ‘‘The Book of Harley-Davidson,’’ was designed to remind core consumers that the company that ‘‘wrote the book’’ on Harley was not about to stray from its principles. In this way the campaign hoped to reinforce positive brand perception among new buyers, while reversing any negative perceptions core riders might have. The company had ambitious sales objectives as well, for it hoped for a 10 percent increase over 1996 figures. Sticking mostly to print advertising, the campaign presented a series of spread ads in national men’s magazines as well as in books for enthusiasts. Each ad was a ‘‘chapter’’ that sold the romance of both the motorcycle and the American road. For example, chapter 5, which sold touring bikes, was titled ‘‘Waking Up in Strange Places,’’ while chapter 8 was called ‘‘Is That Thing Street Legal?’’ an appropriate headline for an ad touting racing bikes. By all measures, the campaign succeeded inmeeting its objectives. By 1998 unit sales had increased, positive perceptions by new buyers had improved, and negative perceptions by core riders had been cut in half.