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Harley-Davidson Lobs a Grenade at Indian…”Unofficially”

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It is a rarity in marketing to see a brand target a competitor as explicitly as Harley-Davidson just did with Indian and this “unofficial” ad on social media.

The guerrilla social media marketing campaign isn’t officially sanctioned by the Bar & Shield brand, so we are told, but it is hard not to see this as the American motorcycle company’s faithful throwing some shade at its biggest contender.

For some context, the issue between the two brands stems from the marketing campaign for the Indian Challenger – the company’s new bagger offering.


To highlight the Indian’s 122hp v-twin engine powerplant, Indian’s marketing team has been making web videos slotting the Indian Challenger against the Harley-Davidson Road Glide, which includes a taco truck tow-off as well as offers to ride back-to-back the Challenger and the Road Glide at Indian dealerships.

In a very Rambo “they drew first blood, not me” moment, Harley-Davidson sees itself responding to Indian in kind, with the two rival brands finally showing some…rivalry. For bonus points, Porsche fans should recognize this messaging.

As I said at the start of this story, it is a rarity to see a brand targeting another so explicitly in a marketing campaign, as it goes against the general rules of advertising decorum, but the situation in the American motorcycle industry creates some interesting factors to bring us to where we are today.

For starters, business isn’t good. Motorcycle sales continue to decline in the United States, and more specifically, American v-twin sales are weakening with each passing year.

There is blood in the water from Harley-Davidson’s bleeding balance sheet as well, and brands like Indian are looking to capitalize on the perceived weakness of the Bar & Shield brand.


In return, Harley-Davidson is finally seeing the writing on the wall for its aging boomer demographic, which is freeing the corporate minds in Milwaukee from their single-track thought process that has dominated the American company for the past 50 years.

Though always marketing savvy, Harley-Davidson is  now more open to some of the bolder ideas that come from its conference rooms, and we are seeing the fruits of that come in the form of electric motorcycles, adventure bikes, and sport bikes.

We can imagine too that Harley-Davidson has not taken kindly to Polaris reviving the Indian Motorcycle name, with the company’s first offerings so obviously going after Harley-Davidson’s marketshare.

It seems now that their feud is out in the open, especially with today’s unattributed advertisement, so we certainly expect to see some sparks fly in the coming days. We doubt Harley-Davidson’s words will go without response from Indian. Go grab some popcorn. Things are about to get interesting.

Source: Instagram

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.

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