Harley-Davidson Gets The ‘Tude Back

On the back of today’s USA Today Money section, this full-page ad for Harley from Carmichael Lynch appears:
Yeah, Harley’s rich territory for creative people, but I love the tone and writing in this. It’s already pinned up in my office.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Great copy. But for the sake of argument, is it wise to say you can ride away from the issues of the day–inflation, war, education, health care for all? I don’t mean from a branding POV, I mean from a socio-cultural POV. I think it’s brilliant from a branding stand point, but it seems myopic and irresponsible from a civic stand point.

  2. Tim Burley says:

    Of course you can ride away from it all, as long as you are an outlaw brand. If they started tackling socio-political issues, would they be the same Harley? Clearly not.

  3. Rather weak. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone to give H-D that rebel voice. The American flag and graphical symbol is played out, but it tends to work given its 105 years as one America’s leading brands (but, where’s the screaming eagle?). Will it sell a ton of scoots or will it keep imbedding “cool” into USA Today Money readers?

  4. Schrodinger's Copywriter says:

    We like this around my office too. I have seen better harley ads (the people made out of parts ads last year was great) but i feel this will resonate with the audience.
    I don’t read it as a disassociation from the issues of our time. i think it promotes engagement. Sort of a battle cry along with a a “this too shall pass” message.

  5. I’m with you on this one David. And imho, branding is all about making a sincere socio-cultural connection. I think Harley had an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. Perhaps by adding something like, “It’s always been the same. Freedom loving, passionate individuals change the world. And we’ll change it again. So do your bit. But then let it go. Grab your bike and soar.” Or something like that. You guys are the creatives, you figure it out. 🙂

  6. Scott Corry says:

    I have to say I’m not totally on board, DB – I read it more like a pean to individuality, to not giving in and getting run down by the machine. While I agree there might be greater nobility in the cause of rising up against it, when you consider how big we let the fear-machine get over the last seven years, not letting it do you in is at least a decent place for a lot of people to start. And from a branding standpoint, it is consistent with Harley’s cultivated outlaw ethos, which has culturally seen itself as being more about resistance than activist engagement. What did Lennon say – “I don’t believe in ‘-isms’, I just believe in me.” ? Of course, I can’t say how many fierce individualists are reading USA Today Money, but if they are, they might be fertile ground for a good branding campaign. BTW – How have you been, man? -S.

  7. I love the hook, “We Don’t Do Fear” and the finger in the man’s eye that it clearly brings to mind.
    All I’m doing here is adding an imaginary layer of complexity to the assignment. Can you do the outlaw biker thing, without saying detachment from current events is cool?

  8. Scott Corry says:

    I think it’s a very compelling question, but I wonder if it’s one that can be leveled at Harley-Davidson. They have been living “outlaw” iconoclast thing for generations now, and it I think it’s as fundamentally based in anti-socialism as smoking is, “Easy Rider” liberal associations notwithstanding. The “outlaw” identity has always been more hands-off libertarian than progressive liberal. I quote a corollary expert, now deceased:
    “To see the Hell’s Angels as caretakers of the old “individualist” tradition “that made this country great” is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are–not some romantic leftover, but the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment…and to translate it into a destructive cult which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity, a temporary phenomenon that will shortly become extinct now that it’s been called to the attention of the police” – Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels
    Or maybe they won’t. Maybe instead, they become a base of support for hate-mongering conservative ideologues, and role-models for disengaged narcissists with identity issues. I might even go so far as to ask whether or not this same persona identification has been slyly coopted by the insidious “anti-government” movement conservatives, who managed to make it desirable for Americans to abdicate their birth-right of self-rule in favor of a packaged anti-establishment “cool”. I’d be tempted to reference not only Nixon’s “silent majority here”, but Hillary’s new block of “hard-working Americans” as well.
    But of course I’ve probably said too much, especially given that I really kinda liked the ad. And now, of course, is no time to be disengaged.
    And congratulations!

  9. Cool ad but the copy’s argument is flawed. How does one “come back stronger than before” when one “puts distance between you and whatever the world throws at you?” Like some readers have pointed out: That’s just running away.

  10. Guillermo E. says:

    Scott, i think you are missing the target for high-end motorcycles on a global scale. I’m not entirely sure how it works in the US, but in England and the Caribbean (where i reside now), these so-called ‘angels’ herein described by Hunter in your quote are inexistent… not to mention thirty years overdue.
    H-D is a brand for relatively well-off, adjusted, executives who have the means to purchase a motorcycle they dreamed off their entire lives. Chrome and freedom sitting in two wheels and way too much power for their aging legs to handle Nothing but a desperate attempt to recapture youth and rusted dreams. Hold on to the toupee and ride hard between weekends away from the kids, business luncheons and executive meetings. The rest of the time is devoted to drinking beer, and matching leather jackets with symbols recognized only by them and their wives.
    H-D released that artwork not for the ‘true’ rebels, they want those who dream of being one and can afford to buy into the fantasy. For them, the problem of recessions translates into gas prices and the real value of owning an ‘ancient’ piece of equipment, when their more eco-friendly neighbors are getting a Segway instead. At that point the only differentiating quality the brand retain is their emotional appeal… so they keep beating that resource to the pulp because it sounds like most convincing one.
    Once again though, that’s the way i’ve seen it work in South America, the caribbean and some parts of europe where i lived. Maybe the angels in the states present the wider demographic for H-D, i am not really sure.

  11. Scott Corry says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said, Steffan. My (somewhat overwrought) point was in response to DB’s question – is there room in H-D’s outlaw branding for a more activist social conscience, or are they boxed in by their branding? And would it matter to them, or are does being more Dennis Hopper than Peter Fonda work for them? My guess is they have too much at stake, particularly with a weaker earnings profile over the last several years, to do anything but try to re-inflate the old iconoclast’s dream. And of course, reinvigorating that posture at a time when everybody’s looking for an alternative to their SUV without ever suggesting owning a hog would be an act of solid citizenship is probably very shrewd. I don’t actually know if there are any Angels left, but I’m guessing they mostly aren’t buying “new”.

  12. Hey all–
    Just thought I’d throw something else in the mix that I neglected to write on the original post.
    On Tuesday night, I heard John Colasanti, the CEO of Carmichael Lynch, give a talk at the Atlanta Ad Club.
    As he was describing the recent H-D work, including this ad, he said that in the last few years, Harley (and its dealers) felt its image had “softened” a little bit, to try to appeal to the yuppies, weekend warriors, etc. This campaign (and there are TV spots coming, etc.) is an attempt to reclaim a little of the traditional H-D heritage.
    I leave it to y’all to decide whether that comes across in the executions.

  13. It’s a simple as rain,screw the fluff and try something real for
    a change.This country has gone soft and HD has the guts to
    say so,PC sucks….

  14. C Wagner says:

    There are still plenty of “marginal” Angels-types in the USA. That is one of the more interesting elements of the HD appeal: They serve a well-to-do segment of the population for which the price of the bike represents a week’s work, and others who have to work 6 months+ to pay for a Harley.
    If you attend a big rally like Sturgis, you will see both types coexisting: the Angels as iconoclasts, the wealthy folks (literally) disguised as iconoclasts, with sleeveless shirts, bandanas, and all.
    This ad appeals to a lot of the Angels-type core values: independence, toughness, a libertarian patriotism, and that intersection of western landscapes set to the unmistakable sound of a Harley engine.
    Great copy. Great campaign. Very American. Powerful stuff.