New Hire to Bring More Hollywood to Harley

Former GM Exec Dino Bernacchi Wants Brand Involved in Entertainment Properties From the Beginning

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DETROIT ( -- Dino Bernacchi has traded in four wheels for two.

Mr. Bernacchi, the former manager of branding and entertainment for North America at General Motors Corp., joined Harley-Davidson last month as director of advertising, promotions and entertainment.

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Harley's new hire wasted no time, traveling to Los Angeles for a week earlier this month to huddle with Hollywood types and let them know the motorcycle marketer is on the hunt for deals that fit its brand.

"I am challenging my teams to find properties as far upstream as possible, and if we are part of the property, we're able to leverage and activate it," Mr. Bernacchi said. "Our desire to activate is heightened." He said he's looking for the "right properties and partners who can incorporate us best in their stories."

He predicted Harley will do more online as it expands its marketing platforms, partly because it can "hyper-target" on the web. Mr. Bernacchi said a cool entertainment deal tied to the rollout of 2010 models will arrive this summer, and although he hinted it had a music tie-in, he declined to discuss any details.

The brand works with Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles, and Premier Entertainment Services, North Hollywood, Calif. CAA brought Harley its FX deal with "Sons of Anarchy" last season, and the marketer played a very collaborative role in creating the show.

CAA's Jae Goodman, creative director and co-head of marketing, said Harley has always been quite active in branded entertainment, but the arrival of Mark-Hans Richer as Harley's first chief marketing officer nearly two years ago from GM sent a signal the marketer would be stepping up branded entertainment.

"Look at Dino's track record, and Harley is very much open for business for collaborations in Hollywood," said Mr. Goodman, who spent nearly a full day with Mr. Bernacchi during his recent visit to the coast.

Harley doesn't have the massive budgets GM once carried, "so it will be an exercise in creativity," Mr. Goodman said.

Mr. Bernacchi declined to discuss his 2009 budget -- even whether it was bigger or smaller than 2008, when Harley spent $18 million in U.S. measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Latest effort targets women
The marketer's latest effort in the space can be seen in the June issue of Vanity Fair, via a custom ad section of four celebrity women riders created by the magazine's in-house team. A behind-the-scenes video of the shoot is on Yahoo and YouTube. May is Harley's Women Riders Month, and the company is trying to encourage 100,000 women to learn to ride.

Women account for between 10% and 12% of Harley's annual new-cycle sales, up from 4% a decade ago. Females are one of four prime opportunity targets for the marketer.

The company is also reaching out to African-Americans, Hispanics and the 18-to-35 demographic. The company is asking Hispanics if they are "Harlistas," a Latin-American term for the brand's riders, and to post videos and photos on that may be used for a documentary. To reach younger prospects, Harley inked a global presenting sponsorship and exclusive motorcycle partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in early 2008. "We see our brand embodied in these fighters: young, aggressive, hard-working individuals who cut against the grain," Mr. Richer said.

Mr. Richer, who was Mr. Bernacchi's boss at Pontiac, signed model and cycle fan Marissa Miller for ads last fall and a 2009 Harley calendar.

Not immune to recession
While Harley is an iconic brand, it hasn't been immune to the economic slump. Retail sales of Harley motorcycles dropped 12% worldwide and 9% in the U.S. in the first quarter compared with the first three months of 2008, but industrywide, heavy motorcycles dropped 22% in the U.S. Harley's global net income in the latest period was $117 million vs. $187 million a year ago, on revenue of $1.29 billion compared with $1.31 billion in the first quarter of 2008.

Meanwhile, Harley's gain could well mark a major loss for GM, which is facing a federal June 1 deadline for entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Although GM has replaced Mr. Bernacchi with Bridget Wanczyk as manager of branded entertainment, few pundits expect the auto giant to participate in all the glitzy programs it has in the past once it puts its upcoming second deal with the "Transformers" movie franchise behind it next month.

"GM's branded-entertainment spending has been impacted as part of our overall reductions in marketing and sponsorships and it isn't doing as much in this space as we might have otherwise done due to the challenging business environment," a spokeswoman said.

But she said the marketer still plans to continue branded-entertainment efforts, because research for the past season showed they helped meet business objectives. "We have not made any firm commitments to 2009-2010 shows," she said, "but are looking to partner with properties that can help to put momentum behind our critical vehicle launches."

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