Harley Continues to Chase a Younger Audience

08/24/2010 @ 8:05 am, by Jensen Beeler38 COMMENTS

We’ve gotten more than a few emails from readers between the ages of 18-30 saying they’ve been approached at motorcycling events by market research company representatives working for Harley-Davidson. In conjunction with beefing up its Sportster line-up (the goto motorcycle at Harley-Davidson for catering to Gen-Y/X riders) with more youth-oriented motorcycles, Harley-Davidson is clearly trying to latch onto a new generation of rider.

Looking for the next generation of rebels, Harley’s focus lately has been on the skateboarding inclined, hoping perhaps that the demographic’s lifestyle of “skateboarding is not a crime” is a value that transfers over easily to two-wheeled transportation. Of course this marketing effort wouldn’t be complete without a new ad campaign, and Harley is clearly making ads for the customer it wants, not the customer it has.

Giving credit where credit is due, this is one of the better ads to come out of the Milwaukee brand. Check the video out after the jump, and note how many times you see a woman behind the handlebars.

2011 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight:

  • Bravo Harley! Your market towards a growth market will undoubtedly change your fortunes and grow your company! How can we 30~somethings resists a nice commercial…. Oh wait, you haven’t changed your product yet? Just new paint and graphics again? Oh…

  • Jeff

    I think Harley’s are stupid, but there are plenty of folks that just don’t know any better. This ad campaign looks extremely effective. It doesn’t matter about the substance of the product really….does the generation they are targeting value substance or image more? This is an one, and it looks like they are putting on the right image.

    As for me – its all about substance, gotta have the go before the show

  • Ken

    like stated above. a new paint job on a low tech over priced motorcycle isnt gonna reel in the youngsters. Unless you specifically want to ride a harley, i dont forsee many sporting enthusiasts debating between a ninja and a sportster. They are gonna have to try harder than that……

  • Beast Incarnate

    I think it’s a smart move for them. While existing riders aren’t going to be convinced by this effort, it isn’t geared towards them. We aren’t the target market. Non-riders are. I guarantee that my girlfriend, despite all of the logical reasons I’ve provided to look at more capable machines, would find this ad very appealing.

  • Odie

    Seems like Harley is still trying to stay in the business of manufacturing and selling motorcycles without actually doing any engineering. They fired all the real engineers at Harley: they all worked under Erik Buell.

  • Adam

    I so tire of hearing the argument that Harley fans are ignorant, style-over-substance luddites, as opposed to the rest of the motorcycling community who are presumably true function-over-form pragmatists. Bullcrap. If that were true, bikes like the Kawasaki Versys and the entire naked factory streetfighter genre would be flying off the showroom floors. Instead, rivaling the scores of cruisers on the streets, we see an equal number of riders on 600 supersports and liter-bikes. While you may encounter one track-day enthusiast among one hundred, most of them purchased their sportbikes because they looked cool and/or their friends ride something similar, have never seen a track and never will, have never heard of Valentino Rossi, and couldn’t tell Nicky Hayden from Joseph Haydn. Let’s not even mention the subgroup who lower their bikes, lengthen the wheelbase with a 4-ft swingarm, and polish every metal surface until the bike looks like the Silver Surfer. For the majority of sportbike riders, the fact that their rides are technologically superior to a Harley Davidson are purely coincidental. I appreciate and have owned motorcycles of all types, including sportbikes, but I hate hypocrisy. Pseudo-intellectual hipster douches of the world, please don’t turn one of my favorite activities into yet another platform for you to inflate your ego and convince strangers that you are smarter than the rest of us.

  • fazer6

    Everything Adam says it true.

    But it still won’t save HD.

  • gazza

    i agree with adam, but the “streetfighter genre is kind of the rebellious side of the existing motorcycle community and only appeal to existing bikers. the type of person that would be seduced by this HD ad are the same people that ask people with streetfighters if htey’ve crashed their bike…..

    And the naked genre is the most successful genre in europe BTW. that’s why every manufacturer has bought out a CB1000 or a shiver or a FZ or a z1000 or the ducati streetfighter etc.
    they sell more nakeds in europe than faired bikes to my knowledge…..

  • irksome

    As a certified old guy riding a naked bike (52 on a ’98 Speed triple), I won’t dignify the above with a reply.
    As for HD shopping their wares to a younger set of buyers, I can only assume that once the “rebels” in their pirate costumes have given the new kids on Sportsters enough crap about riding a girl’s bike, they’ll just HAVE to trade up to a FLXHTR$$QPTR. Now THAT is a brilliant marketing scheme.
    They just better hurry before the bad boys trade up for an Airstream and a colostomy bag.

    Am I still bitter about the demise of Buell, a truly American bike? You betcha.

  • joe

    harley skateboards, now with metal wheels

  • Ry_Trapp0

    You know, it’s funny how everyone just ASSumes that, because they don’t like H-Ds, no one else likes them either. “Well OBVIOUSLY they aren’t selling to Gen-X/Y, because I don’t like them!” Ahem…
    …yes, H-D is the U.S. market share LEADER of on-road motorcycles among YOUNG ADULTS.
    I think H-D will be doing just fine for years to come – whether any of you like it or not.

    @Adam – It’s not worth your time. Nothing you say will take these ‘greater than thou’ pricks off of their pedestals. They are equal to the stereotypical BMW M3 driver who thumbs his noes at the lowly Ford Mustang driver.

  • emed0s

    Someone has really liked your article and republished it verbatim:


  • Craig

    Flashy marketing can’t hide 1930’s technology. Wake up Harley! If you really want to move beyond your traditional customer base, then stop trying to sell the same old (take that literally) motorcycle wrapped in a different color and sold with a slicker ad campaign to a “new” generation.

  • Dark Horse

    “You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you cannot sell an old man’s car to a young man.” -Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen

    Sorry Harley, but the same holds true for motorcycles.

  • mac macy

    What’s wrong with an M3 – a stock M3 will kick the ass of a stock Mustang – unless the ‘Stang is a Shelby or Roush with a nuclear reactor below the hood in which case the Bimmer is shit out of torque… Anyway, F*** Harley they still haven’t learned how to make anything other than a lead sled with an old lawn mower engine, and so they will just get their ass kicked (again) when Ducati brings the Vyper-“Diavel” to the States (which is sacrilege because Ducati shouldn’t be making a cruiser but then again someone has to slam some sense into Harley so it might as well be the Italian stallion)…

  • Adam

    blah blah 1930s technology blah. That’s exactly the kind of cliche’ comments I’m talking about. Fact is, Harley could build a bike with an magnetorheological self-adjusting suspension, an ion-pulse engine, and an onboard computer that can calculate the mass of the Higgs-Boson, but the diehard anti-Harley proclaimers will still spew venom. Believe me, I get it: they are questioning whether or not it make sense to spend more money for less performance. That’s a rational argument, but then motorcycling is not really a rational choice, is it? Making the decision to forgo the enclosed safety and stability of a 4-wheeled vehicle with cargo space, for a more dangerous two-wheeled vehicle is purely EMOTIONAL. Also an emotional matter is an individual’s perception of which motorcycle is “cool” and therefore worthy of one’s money and ownership. People aren’t buying sportbikes because they NEED the additional performance and technological improvements such as adjustable suspension. (I bet more than 90% of sportbike owners don’t even know how to properly adjust their suspension beyond preload.) Rather, they are making an emotional choice, one that doesn’t need to be validated by vilifying the emotional choices of others. It makes about as much sense as making fun of another person for their favorite music. ‘sall I’m saying…

  • marshall

    adam’s got it right.

    here is another example of harley investing in skateboarders; aside from the blatant harley promotion, i actually liked this series. there are 8 parts:

    no matter how “old” the technology is, there are a lot of us – even 22 year olds like myself – who enjoy owning a machine that we can fully understand and maintain ourselves, using basic skills rather than expensive tools/parts and complicated maintenance procedures. i’m blown away by the technology used in the sport bikes and think the engineers have done a fantastic job, but they’ll never have the same appeal as a bike whose insides i can know like the back of my hand. i still want one, but the appeal is more sexy-ultimate-racing-machine than tough-lifelong-companion-motorcycle. and i can’t help but feel a backlash against all the first time riders my age who buy 1000cc bikes and barely know how to ride or turn a wrench. it’s a shame harleys are so f***ing overpriced! fortunately for harley, a young person’s capacity for making stupid image-centric purchases often overcomes the fact that he/she DOESN’T HAVE ANY MONEY. always has been that way, always will. personally, unless i find a great deal on an old harley, my next bike will be yet another old japanese one – simple, cheap, tough, fast.

    despite the prices, i think harley will do fine with the younger generation. hate to say it but this ad appealed to me. nothing special about the harleys in it; could have been ducatis or bmws, as long as it had the same “f*** the man” message. harley just happens to have a history of beating us over the head with this same message, so it seems to fit well.

  • joe

    I was looking at getting a Buell before they pulled the plug. I don’t hate Harley, I just would not buy a new one. I would buy a pre amf xlch, or most anything before 69. The old ones look better to me, and if I don’t have a high compression motor I’d rather kickstart it. I wouldn’t buy a retro triumph either. I would buy a street triple, or a daytona for the track. I would have bought a Buell in a heart beat if they didn’t come with a belt drive and had a standard sportbike front brake system. I’m not sure where your beef is Adam. There is a rich history at harley, but when your future is all about your past, how long will it take to get old? Pushrods work, but so do cam chains, hell, I guess gear driven valves on motorcycle are diesel cool. Maybe harley could do that? There are a lot of valid reasons to not like harleys, the way they handled Buell is a good one, the fact that their rich, huge, company only last year began to win anything other than flat track races, is another. The fact that they put their hand out to the federal government, “just to see”, is another. I ride skateboards,and dirtbikes, and old motorcycles, and new motorcycles, but harley makes nothing new for me. It doesn’t mean all harleys suck, they just don’t have anything in their line up for me. I think harley is more scared of losing their identity if they branch out, than anything else. Thats sad, their identity is an American motorcycle company, I’m an American motorcycle rider, do I have to quit trackdays and dirt riding to be an American motorcyclist?

  • Adam

    @Joe, agree with what you are saying. I’m not an HD loyalist, and believe they’d benefit from a tech refresh . Just amused at the immediate barrage of hatred every time the subject of a post involves HD, and hoping to give the vehemently anti-HD crowd an alternate point of view. Wasn’t nearly as bad with this article vs others, but still… most of us are well adjusted folks who know that all HD riders aren’t s&m pirates, just as all sportbike riders are not endorsement-plastered power rangers riding dangerously.

    As to the new ad campaign, I think each HD model or range has its own demographic, and advertising may not do much to change that. Since HD can’t drastically overhaul their lineup without alienating their base, they ought to create a spin-off brand a la Yamaha and Star. Yes, I realize they had 2 already, but MV Agusta and Buell are/were already established and riders had an expectation when hearing the name. Its a shame about Buell, but they didn’t sell well for a number of reasons, and bringing them back wouldn’t fix that. Perhaps a fresh new marquis is in order, one that caters to American tastes and fills gaps in the range of motorcycles currently available to the public. How about a fully faired 750-800cc V-Twin sportsbike, at a price competitive with the Ducati 848 and GSXR750? Maybe a model that fills the beginner hole left by the demise of the Buell Blast, one that is comparable performance-wise with the Ninja 250? A V-twin sports tourer with the 1125R rotax engine?

  • joe

    HD news gets all that response because its easy to make fun of that 2d stereotype they embrace, and the technology thing. Its like nascar, also very easy to mock.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    @mac macy – Where did I say anything bad about the BMW M3? Did you even read my post? I said that the narrow minded greater than thou pricks that wish death upon H-D for no reason are just like those greater than thou M3 drivers.
    BTW, the $25k cheaper 2011 5.0l Ford Mustang GT equals or beats the 2011 BMW M3 in EVERY performance category – including road course lap times…
    …the recently announced Boss 302 Mustang will destroy the M3, and the GT500 w/ SVT Performance Package will utterly annihilate the M3.

  • don’t lose the focus of the ad: attract younger audience. That most likely has a large % of *new* riders.

    How ’bout a proper factory “Cafe’ster” ? You see them all over the blogs, esp. the Euro blogs. And they are street-credible across many groups of riders, young and old.

    (not the failed XLCR. Sorry Willie, nice cult bike now, but Gen Y & X aren’t after that version and they might not be after the cruiser Sportsters to the extent your trying)

    New riders:
    manageable power compared to some 600cc supersports, but the HD Cafe Sportster will still be sporting for new riders. See Performance catalog.

    price could compete with some 600s.
    (from their respective websites: GSXR 600 = $10,400; Nightster = $9,999)

    Existing riders:
    would buy this bike too.

    Both types of riders would tap into a performance catalog (suspension, wheels, etc.). Even the DIYs would now have a $ource to make their own cafe. Money to be had across several riders.

  • Rear header and open primary would not make it to production, but you get the idea.


  • Tom

    Harley has to chase younger buyers because younger buyers are in no way being attracted to H-D. Luckily, Harelys are overpriced slow POS bikes that cannot handle so there is no way that they can catch us!

  • Ry_Trapp0

    Tom, H-D is the market leader for sales of new bikes to young adults…
    You don’t have to believe it, but it won’t make it any less true.

  • Tom

    Second QUARTER! Like too many Americans, your thinking is extremely myopic. H-D is on a collision course with bankruptcy due to the demographics of its market and its idiotic financial decisions. You don’t have to believe it, but it won’t make it any less true.

  • Tom

    The same can be said for SUVs…a bump in sales. But such short term numbers do not indicate a return of SUV dominance anymore than a few extra HDs signals a complete turnaround for Milwaukee.


  • Ry_Trapp0

    Tom, did you read the entire article? They’ve been the market share leader in sales of new bikes to young adults since AT LEAST 2006.

    Like too many H-D haters, you fail to actually do some reading and research, and make assumptions based on ignorant preconceived notions.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    Oops, reading comprehension failure on my own behalf, haha. H-D is the market share leader in sales of new heavy weight bikes to young adults since at least 2006, and market share leader in sales of ALL bikes to young adults since 2008. Either way, my point stands.

  • Tom

    Like all cult members, you cannot take the least bit of criticism….or reality. H-D is losing money. Its getting its ass handed to it around the world. Its laying off workers. Its threatening to move out of Milwaukee. HD is losing money… FACT. HD will go bankrupt without major changes to its business. You claim that HD has been a leader since 2006 and yet its economic woes continue and its overall sales have declined. I don’t hate HD. I merely recognize it as the quitting failure hype machine that it is. I know the history of motorcycling in the US and how we once dominated the planet. HD doesn’t dominate anymore and its its in an economic crisis. My point stands squarely on top of yours.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    And like every other H-D hater, the evidence is presented right in front of you, but god forbid you admit your ignorant assumptions are wrong. You still don’t believe that H-D is selling bikes to young adults, right? I’m not making “CLAIMS”, if you would read the article that I’ve posted(god forbid, I know) you would see that the data was collected and interpreted by the neutral and independent automotive statistics group, R.L. Polk.
    Your “point” is anywhere near mine, because you refuse to acknowledge mine. You said that young adults aren’t buying H-Ds, I have given you proof that they are, and you go on some big tirade about H-D’s profit margins and the economy. I don’t give a damn if H-D is losing $2,000 on each bike they sale, it doesn’t change the fact that they ARE selling to the demographic that you claim they aren’t attracted to them.

  • Tom

    Like a child, you crawl back desperate to be right. You ignore the glaring reality that damns your entire mythology. You also lied about the numbers. Harley is the leader of ON ROAD bikes to those OVER 35. ON ROAD….you ignore this tidbit of valuable information. You also ignore that HD sales are dropping around the world in markets like China and India…markets that are becoming much more valuable than the US market. So, HD is marketing ON ROAD bikes to 35 year olds and you want to call them young. I’ll take that as a compliment but the fact still remains that HD is not reaching the young demographic like you think or will care to look at. There are these things called OFF ROAD bikes, but being a Harley slave, you wouldn’t know anything about them.

    I don’t hate Harley like you wished I did as doing so would give some justification to your insipid self-righteousness. I don’t give a damn about Harley because they don’t make a bike that interests me at a price that I’m willing to pay (the VRod is nice but here in Japan, its way overpriced even more so than in the USA) but I don’t want to see them go bankrupt and ruin thousands of lives. HD is losing money and in the big picture, my point stands squarely on the neck of yours robbing it of any relevance or oxygen. You ooooooooooooo so want to win this argument, but money talks and your quarterly numbers BS walks.

  • Tom

    Actually, its the HEAVYWEIGHT CRUISER ON ROAD CATEGORY that Polk reports so yeah, duh, Harley is the market leader in that subfield. This explains to you why Harley can be a leader in sales and still going bankrupt. Like I said, you want to win but you don’t get what you want.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    Direct quote from the article that you, apparently, still haven’t read…

    ” · . . . in the U.S., no one is reaching new customers better than Harley-Davidson.

    · Based on recently provided Polk data, we have been the heavyweight motorcycle category market leader in new motorcycle sales to young adult men and women ages 18 to 34 since at least 2006.

    · We have also been the heavyweight market leader since at least 2006 in new motorcycle sales to women riders, Hispanic riders and African American riders ages 35 and older. Of course, we are also the market leader among Caucasian men ages 35 and older.

    · And when it comes to new motorcycle sales to young adults in ALL sizes of on-road motorcycles, Harley-Davidson has been the U.S. market share leader since 2008.”

    let me repeat the key points here…

    ” the heavyweight motorcycle category market leader in new motorcycle sales to young adult men and women ages 18 to 34 since at least 2006.”

    “And when it comes to new motorcycle sales to young adults in ALL sizes of on-road motorcycles, Harley-Davidson has been the U.S. market share leader since 2008.”

    Like I said, leader in sales to YOUNG ADULTS – ages 18 to 34 – in heavyweight sales since 2006. Leader in sales to YOUNG ADULTS – ages 18 to 34 – in ALL TOTAL NEW BIKE SALES since 2008.
    I hope someone else is still reading these comments, so I’m not the only one seeing how ignorant you are.

  • Tom

    I hope that you’re still reading Harley’s corporate balance sheets. Nope, I don’t give a damn what you cult people do or don’t do. Harley defines a category that ONLY it participates in – heavyweight cruisers – and then brags about being the leader in it. Idiots like you buy that marketing tripe like little girls buy Justin Bieber tickets. You also ignore OFF ROAD bikes, something that HD does not and currently cannot make. Its an entire genre of bikes that Harley cannot tap into – a market where real young people have gravitated to. HD is still going bankrupt despite your cult chanting of their marketing numbers. HD is losing market share around the world so no, HD is NOT reaching out to new young buyers in places like China and India, the two markets that actually matter.

    Like I said before and will say again, you are so desperate to be validated that you crawl back here to me needing my attention. Harley’s financial numbers speak for themselves so your numbers don’t mean jack squat. Harley is not expanding and that’s a FACT.

  • Tom

    And, stop with the haters crap. I think the VROD is a kickass bike & if they weren’t so overpriced here in Japan, I’d certainly get one. Further, a completely bankrupt HD will devestate Milwaukee and that’s not a positive thing for anyone. Leave the cult. Be an individual and think for yourself…..just like Harley marketing says that you do.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    H-D balance sheet? Nope, reporting facts that Paul @ TheKneeslider checked and sourced to the automotive statistics gathering and reporting agency R.L. Polk. H-D doesn’t define shit – R.L. Polk does. And R.L. Polk – and every other player in the industry – categorizes large displacement cruisers as “heavyweights”.
    And do I need to repeat AGAIN that H-D is the market share leader in sales of ALL on-road motorcycles to young adults??? I’m sure you’ll keep ignoring that one.

    The off-road segment??? I’m not ignoring them, I’m not mentioning them because they don’t pertain to the topic at hand in any way, shape, or form. If you’ve forgotten, the topic at hand is H-D’s sales of ON-ROAD bikes to young adults(ages 18-34). You have any more straw man arguments?

    Why should I stop calling you a hater? It’s about as clear that your a hater as it is that I’m a “cult follower” apparently. I don’t dislike H-Ds, but I don’t own one nor do I have the desire to own one. I defend them because morons attack them with baseless assumptions that they state as fact(“…younger buyers are in no way being attracted to H-D”).
    Follow your own advise: think for yourself – and do some RESEARCH instead of repeating baseless rhetoric.

  • Tom

    ONLY Harley makes heavyweights so it does define the segment. That you don’t understand this fact does not make it go away. No, I don’t ignore the report of on road bike. Its you who ignore OFF ROAD bikes, a HUGE market that HD doesn’t even have a single product to compete in.

    Oh, and Mr. Idiot, you ignore the latest HD report on this very site….”Harley-Davidson & Labor Unions Edge Closer to Keeping Production in Wisconsin”

    Profitable companies don’t threaten to move or cut production. This is what you ignore because as much as you want to think that Harley is growing, its balance sheets…ITS BALANCE SHEETS prove otherwise. This is not my opinion or some research company. HARLEY is saying its losing money despite the claims that its expanding into the youth market it needs to survive. Its failing more badly than your attempts to be relevant. My point once again stand squarely on top of your yours. Harley is NOT growing.