Harley Ads Leave Worry in the Dust

Defiant Campaign Said to Be Inspired by Customers' Mood

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Economy got you down? Take some advice from Harley-Davidson: "Screw it; Let's ride."

The motorcycle maker's bold new U.S. ad campaign carries an in-your-face theme and tough-talking copy ("Fear sucks") that came from the company's customers, said Mark-Hans Richer, who last summer became Harley-Davidson's first CMO after leaving General Motors Corp. The print and online ads, from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, are the result of "road research," gathered by the marketer and staffers by interacting with customers at rallies, races and rides, Mr. Richer said.
H-D - Screw It

According to market research conducted by Harley Davidson and Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, customers would rather be out riding their bikes than obsessing over the economy.

"We started hearing it a few months ago" from owners who don't fret about the economy or financial doom and gloom in the press, Mr. Richer said. "We wanted to reflect that mindset."

No fear here
That's why copy in print ads and online reads "Fear sucks." There was some discussion about the wording, Mr. Richer said, but the agency nailed the big idea on the first try.

Mr. Richer said research with "real people in the real world is probably more meaningful than getting 12 people in a room" for a focus group. He didn't pre-test the ads because the work reflects how Harley's customers think and feel.

The media flight, which started a few days ago, runs through mid-June.

Since then, more than 3,125 visitors to harley-davidson.com have signed on to "Write your rally cry," although most are adopting the "Screw it" credo. Whittman-Hart, Chicago, handles the site, while Carmichael Lynch created the online and offline ads.

Profit dips, but revenue rises
The effort comes just weeks after the marketer announced first-quarter results, posting net income of $187.6 million, a 2.5% drop vs. the year-ago period on revenue of $1.31 billion, nearly 11% better than a year ago.

Jim Ziemer, CEO of Harley-Davidson, said U.S. retail sales of its motorcycles slid by 12.8% in an increasingly weakening economy. "Although these retail results are disappointing, Harley-Davidson's U.S. dealers outperformed the heavyweight-motorcycle industry, which was down 14%," he said in a statement.
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