Carmichael Lynch, the ad agency behind Harley-Davidson’s “Screw it, Let’s Ride” campaign, has just announced that it will be parting ways with the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer. In a pair of “it’s not you, it’s me” press releases, the two companies, which have partnered together for the past 31 years, cite different reasons for their mutual departures.

Harley-Davidson CMO Mark-Hans Richer said in the company’s statement that, “our strategies have been moving away from a singular consumer target and a one-size-fits-all agency solution. Rather than accept this new reality, Carmichael Lynch chose a different path and we respect that.” Meanwhile according to Advertising Age,  President of Carmichael Lynch Doug Spong said that, “Our agency leadership came to the consensus that we’ve taken the Harley-Davidson brand as far as we can. It’s in our best interest to part ways.”

We just think that Harley-Davidson is on Step 1 of our three part strategy on How to Save Harley-Davidson.

If rumors surrounding the announcement are true, Harley-Davidson was less than pleased with the old school thinking and practices that Carmichael Lynch was bringing to the table for the motorcycle manufacturer. It’s no secret now that Harley-Davidson is trying to grow its appeal to younger riders, which for the brand means engaging a generation that was brought up on Nintendo, the internet, cell phones, and social media.

To meet these needs Harley-Davidson has been increasingly using an array of different media sources and ad agencies in its arsenal to reach new riders, and Carmichael Lynch’s lack of a real digital, social, and search game plen left the agency unusable for these needs.

Carmichael Lynch on the other hand points to its long history of providing successful market communications for Harley-Davidson, especially when the company had a PR disaster regarding its product reliability. Carmichael Lynch President Doug Spong said in statement that, “it didn’t come down to any one thing, but if you look at the challenge right now of growing Harley’s sales — they’ve weathered a tough few years in terms of the recession,” continued Lynch. “We’ve supported them through good times and bad.”

We think that a past history of towing the line is poor substitute for showing a shining light on an uncertain path to a client. If we were Harley-Davidson, we’d expect our partners, even one’s of long standing, to prove how their going to bring value to our future business, but perhaps Carmichael Lynch’s response was “Screw It, Let’s Ride.” Thanks for the tip Doug!

Source: ReutersAdvertising Age

  • motojc

    HD needs new products. There’s only so many ways one can dress up a turd. IMHO:)

  • Isaac

    You said it brother. they need some water cooled motors and bikes like the MV Agusta Brutale. H-D once made race bikes too. Rember that HD750 from the 60’s? They can even stay V-2 if they want. I’d say V-4 but that’s me.

    HD KRRT-750

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  • Why on earth would Harley want to make motorcycles that are being made by nearly every other motorcycle manufacturer on the planet. Be realistic: if Harley-Davidson made a bike like an MV Brutale, would YOU buy one … or would you buy from a manufacturer with a reputation for having made motorcycles like the Brutale for years? It’s the same reason why people many people buy Harley rather than Jap cruisers: your idea of a polished turd is not mine, and vive la difference. There’s more to motorcycling than assuming the squatting frog position.

    On the other hand, specific to the piece, would you employ a PR company who can’t even get the picture of the company’s main product the right way round on their flagship new ad campaign : Harleys are asymmetrical, always have been – even the V-Rod is visible very different on the left and right hand sides. That’s a primary chaincase you’re looking at on the ad at the top, where the gearbox end cover would be – which is why there’s no trace of the exhaust: Harley should employ people who know and give a shit about their bikes – at all levels.

    Sorry to contradict you, Isaac, but Harley do make a water-cooled bike: the aforementioned V-Rod. It’s not been the success that it could have been because the core market for that sort of motorcycle isn’t interested in Harley at any price or level of technology, and the core H-D market isn’t interested in high-speed horsepower at the expense of low-end torque, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    They do however need to broaden their market, and the challenge faced by the whole motorcycle industry is to attract the next generation of motorcyclists, but that doesn’t means Harley-Davidson should start making the same motorbikes that the rest of the industry is failing to sell instead. It isn’t just Harley would are in the dock: it’s the entire industry.

    Harley can be accused of focusing on heavy cruisers, but it’s no worse than the persistent pursuit of power by other manufacturers when generations of sportbikes have been faster than 99% of mere mortals can possibly hope to use on the street, and even the top echelons of racing riders don’t need. We need new entry level machines that are engaging, cool, sexy even, and more attractive than a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Jap Coupe to a teen or a twenty-something mass market.

    Blue sky thinking is needed, and in the meantime let Harley celebrate being the market leader in a single sector, rather than demanding they become an also-ran in a much busier, cut-throat market, which will inevitably lead to off-shore manufacture, to let them bring production costs down to compete at the required price-point.

  • froryde

    ” We need new entry level machines that are engaging, cool, sexy even, and more attractive than a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Jap Coupe to a teen or a twenty-something mass market.”

    Good points all around and I agree entirely on your point above, but can we expect Harley to do something along those lines? I’m not betting on it…

  • “but can we expect Harley to do something along those lines? I’m not betting on it…”

    Now that’s the $64,000 question: you’ve got to hope that they’ve got a game plan and Harley are a difficult company to second-guess, but that plea extends beyond the MoCo: lazy thinking by Jap designers that has lead to worthy commuter bikes and scooters that haven’t done much to entice hot-blooded youth to put a first foot on the ladder, even if they have catered for the utilitarian market that was the foundation of the British industry before youth culture adopted the motorcycle.

    I can’t see anything much that has come out of Japan for over a decade that would make my unlicensed teenage self first throw a leg over a motorcycle, but then I’d be looking at cheap, old stuff with an eye on solid-mount Sportsters just as I did old Brit 250cc singles, and bigger twins when I was in my late teens, to build something to exercise the freedom that motorcycles have always given me. Thinking-on, most of my contemporaries were tuning and exploding Kawasaki 2-stroke triples, in those pre-RD250LC days, which goes to show that the debate hasn’t moved far in … oh dear … thirty years.

  • Just wondering where is “step 3”?

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  • Doug

    Seeing people like Roland Sands chop and bob H-D’s new Sportsters is definitely making the bikes more appealing, personally anyway. So much of marketing a motorcycle revolves around appealing to the audience’s ethos, and for the longest time I couldn’t embrace the destructive outlaw/weekend RUB (that’s rich urban buyer) image H-D teetered between. They did that really well, but it’s just not me. But now these young, ambitious builders and riders are taking to these Sportsters and really making them their own, and some of the models are beautiful—that’s what I want if I were to buy a H-D.

  • froryde

    I think KTM is doing well with their new 125 Race / Stunt (even if playing safe and sticking to the Duke name – come on, all that online naming contest crap and still just ‘Duke’?!) in offering something fun, sexy, and (relatively) cheap to attract young blood…

  • Roland’s doing some very neat stuff, and it’s that sort of enthusiasm we need from inside the industry. Met him briefly at Mallory Park in the UK before he took one of Shaw Harley-Davidson’s XR1200 race bikes out at Brands Hatch with respectable results, and the way his mind was working, if he doesn’t harness elements of the XR race bike with a Sportster I’ll be astonished: that would be cool.

    And yes KTM are doing some serious thinking: might even be enough to bring them to the attention of a wider audience. Don’t be too dismissive of ‘Duke’ though: it’s a stronger name to get behind than KTM which doesn’t really say, do or mean anything outside dirt bike circles … just glad they’ve got their act together after handing the adventure sport market to BMW with ‘The Long Way Round’.

    I’d love to see Harley develop the XR as a sub-brand, using the XR750’s massive heritage and race pedigree it could just carry it off – starting with a Buell Blast derived motor, for which the tooling already exists, working up through a proper XR750 street scrambler and then on to the XR1200 which will have evolved further by then.

    I can hear the techno people sharpening their pencils in preparation, but old doesn’t always mean crap: it can mean simple and don’t forget that most of us cut our teeth on engines that we could strip and rebuild with relative ease, which dragged us deeper into biking and/or engineering. I’ve no desire to see inside an R1 rocker box any more than a car engine, or an 1125R motor for that matter: way too complicated for most of us. Not so the simple Sportster or a single cylinder motor derived from it, and there’s a shedload of spares, and generations of tuning experience all over the planet.

    For what it’s worth, Part 3 of How To save Harley, for me, would be for the MoCo to build a 440cc XR street scrambler, run alongside a factory-sponsored short track race series that sets factory bikes against each other and brings in the best kids from BMX and other cycle disciplines as riders, bringing their mates to watch. Run a second series alongside it after a year or two, allowing private teams with their own bikes with a controlled tuning set-up based on power to weight ratios, and see what that can deliver: hell, take the gloves off and with the same power to weight restrictions, invite all comers: it doesn’t matter who wins, because if it is fun/entertaining/competitive, motorcycling will ultimately win.

    And if that ran alongside a XXX road racing series, pitting XL, XB and XR bikes against each other, again with tuning restrictions limited to a given power to weight, it would reintroduce a concept that seems to have been lost to most race series: it’s not about being fastest, but being faster than the people you’re racing, and when the rider’s skills are greater than the bike’s potential, it’s a lot more fun seeing how they get the best from the bike, rather than find out ho9w far they can push it before it bites them. The XR series was considered a joke when the XR1200s were trundled out in the gaps between British Superbike races over here, but the racing is close, the spectacle is engaging, the noise is brilliant … and it is seen as being loads of fun by the same people who initially dismissed it as a circus act.

    Motorbikes=Fun is the equation.

    I’ll shut up now and crawl back under my rock.

  • cbr

    At this internet age, The blue sky should extend outside of the potato farm in Idaho to the street of Bangalore. Make a reference to the world of what HD is representing. It will be sad if younger generation finds out about HD only in vintage movies.

  • motojc

    Well said A-V. My problem with HD is they build products for a very narrow and often aging market, then try to have ad agencies repackage them in order to broaden the appeal. An approach I consider similar to putting a horse behind the carriage. I think they have wrongly identified themselves with cruisers, which really limit the potential and painting themselves into a corner. Because the category is linked to leisure riders and aging customers. It’s very seasonal and luxury that does not do well in bad economic climate. And the fact the older riders (image) don’t help to sell bike either. Like American car makers, they are lazy and kept on making what’s easy and profitable like SUV (low technical content, high profit margin). But only endangered when the whole category falls out of favor. I think the answer is in the V twin. Back in the days, almost all bikes looked like what today knows as cruisers. It’s just others have find ways to optimize the architecture in order to find better performance and evolved, but HD did not. That’s how we end up with cruisers. But through it all, they have always kept the Vtwins, and if they identify that as its heritage, then they will have a little more freedom in envisioning new bikes.

    Look what’s happening in BMW. Another brand with appeal to an aging audience. They realize that. They are brave enough to even do without the boxer engine that is inherently BMW to go head to head with what the Japanese does best and brings a whole new (younger) customer group into the fold. I believe their sales rose 30% early this year compared to last year in a bad economy. Triumph is another good example that has weathered the storm well. They have carefully restructured their comeback with diversified products mostly centered around a certain heritage engine config. They have winning products in each segments they chose to enter. (I love my Daytona 675, even after 56K miles) I for one can not wait to see what the new Tiger 800 will do.

  • motojc

    Oh, and I’m still holding grunge for HD pulling the plug on Buel, not that I like Buel that much better, but they killed the only part of them that was trying (to diversify).

  • @motojc. I’ve not got the numbers to hand, but anecdotally, BMW’s 30% sales improvement was more closely related to the popularity of the adventure tourers, the majority of which are running the oil-cooled boxer twin: I’m sure they would have gone for the big singles if Ewan and Charlie had taken them round the world instead, demonstrating the power of TV product placement.

    The sportier stuff – certainly in the UK – seems to be a harmonising of motorcycle and car divisions: the four wheelers have always had a reputation for performance that was way out of line with their steady but high quality air-cooled twins. They’re getting good reviews in the press, but we’re not seeing big numbers on the road, and we’re hearing horror-stories from dealerships relating to under-developed engineering but nothing that I can substantiate first hand. I have it on good authority, however, that one of the first topics of conversation whenever 1150GS owners get together is which version of the electronics software they’re running.

    Triumph seem to be riding the crest of a wave nicely, and their successful diversity is a lesson to all … although I can’t quite forgive the Thruxton for being a great bike to look at, to pick off its stand, and to listen to, imagining how much better it would sound with slightly louder pipes, but being un-engaging to ride: every nuance of vibration having been removed by over-zealous balance shafts – it could almost have been an electric motor with a synthesized soundtrack. Oh, or for the Thunderbird trying to be a VTX when it had a perfectly good, and iconic forebear … or the Rocket 3 looking like a small car engine shoehorned into a motorcycle chassis in an attempt to win the ‘who’s got the biggest engine’ competition. That’s just me though: I’m not the whole market and there are plenty out there who will love all three of them for precisely the reason that I don’t, and good luck to them – and I’m delighted that you love your Daytona 675: it is an excellent bike in its context

    I too am struggling to forgive the current management for pulling the plug on Buell too, for many of the same reasons and speaking as the owner of a 1999 M2 Cyclone, which is a staggeringly entertaining motorbike to ride on demanding roads, and a good size for a six-footer. Ugly as sin at first glance, but ride one as it was meant to be ridden and forgive it anything: the XB12R Firebolt is still held in the UK as the best handling bike of all time, and by a magazine that had no editorial sympathy with Buell or Harley-Davidson.

    Incidentally – again in the UK, where Harley’s penetration hasn’t typically been that strong – they are increasing market share quite nicely, and not exclusively to a typical cruiser sector. They are big on tourers – especially for the older generation – but the street bikes are gaining wider acceptance and I think a chunk of that is because it is a relatively simple design in a complicated world. They’re doing good business on Dynas these days, and the Fat Bob – the least traditional-looking for the street bike range – is one of their best sellers: it’s big enough, accessible enough, quick enough and lively enough for those people whose wrists can’t take the strain any more, or who are just tired of their horizon being just beyond the next corner. All they need to do is sort out a European version of the Sportster, the XR is slowly gaining acceptance but isn’t really right for the market, and not sure yet if the SuperLow will be that … it certainly won’t as an 883cc. Maybe it’s time to resurrect the Cafe Racer?

    I really must stop getting drawn into these things …

  • JawDroppin

    Perhaps Harley should make cruisers of all sizes (dare I say a 250cc cruiser perhaps??) – so it can cater for all types of personnel, that could be one way of broadening market appeal.

    Over here in Australia – it would also have to combat the fact that the brand is so closely associated with outlaw bikie gangs – it would need some clever marketing to erase that perception.

    JD ;)

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