Harley-Davidson tries to break old stereotypes with new campaign


Do you wear a leather vest and leather chaps? If you answered yes but aren't in a Village People cover band you may feel a little hurt by Harley-Davidson's recent advertising campaign. 

The #RollYourOwn campaign is an effort by America's best-known motorcycle brand to move away from the stereotypical image that many young people have of Harley-Davidson riders and their bikes. 

It's no secret that the average age of a Harley-Davidson rider in the United States is around that of what you'd expect for a college dean rather than a college student. Along with this comes a negative idea of exactly who that college dean is, or, at least, how he likes to dress and behave when he's riding a Harley-Davidson. For a number of decades now, critics of Harley-Davidson have painted its supporters as being old white men who are living out an autumn years life crisis via leather vests and perfectly polished chrome.

Additionally, many younger riders –– especially those living outside the United States –– hold a negative view of Harley-Davidson motorcycles themselves, in terms of their performance capabilities.

Although Harley-Davidson isn't exactly hurting financially (the company's products account for more than 50 percent of bikes larger than 600cc sold in the United States), it's clear the company is concerned that it has allowed a little too much distance to build up between itself and younger riders.

In response, the company has been working in recent years to change its image. The most recent example of that comes in the form of a #RollYourOwn video on YouTube, which features "actual" Harley riders, who are denoted by their Twitter and Instagram handles.


Lacking a voiceover, the video consists of young people (a few of whom are, in fact, wearing leather vests) displaying a general lack of regard for various chopped and modified Harley-Davidson models. Flat-track racers tear around in retro helmets, another Harley screams past on an ice track; wheelies, jumps and donuts are performed as the soundtrack builds with the roar of bikes being pushed to the max of their rev range.

This sort of advertising is admittedly not new for Harley-Davidson. The company ran a very similar series of YouTube ads roughly two years ago as part of its #StereotypicalHarley campaign. In both cases, there is a general lack of chrome bling and a focus on social media. And in both cases there is a certain amount of international focus.

In fact, the two campaigns are so similar that, to our ears here at Biker News Online, both ads use exactly the same guitar track.

And therein one might start to feel cynicism toward this series of ads. Of the 16 Twitter handles mentioned in the #StereotypicalHarley ad, only five accounts are presently active. Most were set up around the time the campaign started and ceased to be updated thereafter. And of the five accounts that are still active, two are for professional models.

Meanwhile, most of the names listed in the #RollYourOwn ad are for Instagram accounts. A quick look at those reveals a collection of professional photographers, professional bike builders, professional racers, a company selling performance parts, a company selling riding gear and a professional stunt rider.

Perhaps this is a sign that the "normal" people buying Harleys are still look a little like this guy:


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