Latest Items on Harley-Davidson's Crowd-Sourcing List: the Actual Bikes

Motorcycle-Maker Turned to Consumers for Ideas During 'Project Rushmore'

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Harley-Davidson is continuing to use its "crowd-sourcing" strategy, this time for consumer input on the actual bikes that are getting the largest new model launch in the company's history.

Under the plan, Harley-Davidson is rolling out eight new 2014 motorcycles featuring improved power and braking performance, voice-recognition phone and music and more dramatic styling. The new bikes will pass faster, stop quicker and see further at night, promises the Milwaukee-based company.

Project Rushmore, as it was dubbed, was confidential for three years, said chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer, as Harley-Davidson asked thousands of riders what they wanted in the next generation of bikes. But because of that secrecy, Harley-Davidson could not go quite full-throttle at crowd-sourcing creative as it has in the past under the structure set up by crowd-sourcing specialists Victors & Spoils in Boulder, Colorado.

But Harley-Davidson did cast real-life riders found through Twitter in the first TV commercial for the new Rushmore bikes, said Mr. Richer. And it asked customers to suggest their favorite cover version of the Beatles song, "Come Together." That's how it found an Irish band called The Strypes. The company uses its version of the Beatles song in the new national TV spot.

Said Mr. Richer: "Everything we do is customer-led. Our goal has been to liberate our brand and let customers have more say in how they want to reflect it -- and how they want us to reflect it."

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Created by VSA Partners, Chicago, the spot opens with a shot of a full moon. Out of a canyon come a pack of Harley riders enjoying the freedom and solitude of a pre-dawn ride. We hear one rider say, "Play Track One," to bring up Come Together. As he's cruising, his song gets interrupted by a flashing call from his boss. He can either accept the call or ignore it. He ignores it -- and continues his ride with a big grin on his face.

"Project Rushmore. Built by all of us. For all of us," says the voiceover. "The next Harley-Davidson."

A teaser for the spot started running in late August. Thirty-second and 60-second versions of the ad, which are part of what Harley-Davidson calls its first global campaign, are now running on TV.

While Harley-Davidson crowd-sources creative ideas, it still works with a variety of media buying and digital agencies. "It would be hard to crowd-source media buying or web development," said Mr. Richer.

Harley-Davidson spent around $12 million on advertising last year. But measured media accounts for only 15% of its marketing budget, said Mr. Richer. The rest is spent on riding with customers and event marketing, such as its recent 110-year anniversary celebration in Milwaukee and a papal blessing and parade in Rome.

When thousands of Harley-Davidson riders showed up for the blessing by Pope Francis, the Vatican issued a press release saying God was driving a Harley-Davidson through the streets of the Eternal City, recalled Mr. Richer. "Little did we know we were doing a cross-promotion with God," he said with a smile.

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