Marketing Maverick Trades Pontiac for Harley

Exclusive: Bike Maker Turns to Innovator Marc-Hans Richer to Lure Younger Generation

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- The man who scored a huge publicity coup by giving away cars on "Oprah" and who moved 1,000 cars in 41 minutes after an appearance on "The Apprentice" is leaving General Motors for one of the hottest brands around: Harley-Davidson. He'll be the venerable motorcycle brand's first chief marketing officer.
Marc-Hans Richer
Marc-Hans Richer

Marc-Hans Richer, who at 40 is one of the better-known figures in auto marketing today, made his mark in new media and branded entertainment, particularly in the last five years, as advertising director of Pontiac and as marketing director of the brand since April 2004.

Under his guidance, Pontiac pulled off the watershed media stunt of giving away 276 of its G6 model to the entire audience of Ms. Winfrey's season opener in September 2004. In addition to launching the sexy Solstice with a branded integration during NBC's "The Apprentice" in spring 2005 that saw consumers clamor to get the first ones off the assembly line, he also helped revive Pontiac by tying with ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and concerts in Times Square.

One of first on Second Life
Mr. Richer, one of Ad Age's annual Marketing 50 in 2004, keynoted at Advertising Age's Madison & Vine conference this year and appeared on the cover of Ad Age's Point taking a blowtorch to a pamphlet on traditional marketing. As evidence of this, he introduced Pontiac's G5 coupe -- completely online. He was, moreover, one of the first marketers to discover what's now become a standard web-marketing tool: Second Life.

Under his leadership, Pontiac in the past few years won a slew of awards, including two Cannes Gold Lions and Gold Effies. Last week, GM handed Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett the newly consolidated Buick-Pontiac-GMC account. Sibling Digitas, Boston, handles interactive.

Whereas once Detroit was a mecca for top marketing minds, some of the more innovative among them have left in recent years, including Jeff Bell, who split from Chrysler for Microsoft; GM VP-Marketing Mike Jackson; and the always controversial Julie Roehm, who ditched Dodge for Wal-Mart (and is now embroiled in a lawsuit with the latter).

Mr. Richer departs Detroit just as the U.S. industry skidded to record low sales in June. According to AutoData Corp., the Big 3 combined now hold just 50.2% of the market.

Sales down
For the first half of the year, GM sales were off by 7% to 1.922 million units. Pontiac's growth, too, has fallen off; the automaker said last week Pontiac's U.S. vehicle sales were down 14% to 175,425 units in the first half of 2007 compared to a year ago.

At Harley, Mr. Richer joins a company whose reputation as a world-class marketer far exceeds its budget. He'll command about a $30 million in spending, compared with $147 million for Pontiac in U.S. measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Yet Harley-Davidson has a cult following of rabid fans who customize with Harley accessories -- and aspiring owners who pony up big bucks for Harley-licensed merchandise. Although the 104-year-old company bounced back from near death in the 1980s, it must attract a new generation of aficionados because its most loyal owners, baby boomers, are aging -- and targeting younger consumers is right up Mr. Richer's alley.

The move represents a return to his native Milwaukee for Mr. Richer, who joined GM in 1998 from DDB, Chicago, where he had been an account director on McDonald's.
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