Harley launches 'Screw It' campaign, blows it instead

Dailies -


harleyscrew1.jpgHarley-Davidson’s new campaign “Screw It, Let’s Ride” relies on Middle America’s growing concern with worldwide economic strife triggered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, continued war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and astronomical fuel prices. Carmichael Lynch, Harley-Davidson’s Agency of Record, plays on the working class’s need for respite with the line, “and the rumble of an engine drowns out all the spin of the evening news,” spoken in a soft Southern worker’s drawl. That’s some nice spin ya’ll done got there, Yankees.>From an advertising perspective, the print campaign is a master-class work of visual cues pushing all the classic xenophobic and patriotic buttons. The youthful lone male with a soldier’s physique amid the flat landscape of the heartland plains evokes Eastwood-like romantic notions of a cowboy’s rugged independence. The stained and wrinkled flag is perfectly tattered, evoking the struggle of freedom. The major colors of the ad are that flag’s red, white and blue, with the red stripe soaking the soldier’s body, evoking blood, passion, courage, honor and, of course, sacrifice.

“We don’t do fear. Over the last 105 years in the saddle, we’ve seen wars, conflicts, depression, recession, resistance and revolutions. We’ve watched a thousand hand-wringing pundits disappear in our rear-view mirror. But every time, this country has come out stronger than before. Because chrome and asphalt put distance between you and whatever the world can throw at you. Freedom and wind outlast hard times. And the rumble of an engine drowns out all the spin on the evening news. If 105 years have proved one thing, it’s that fear sucks and it doesn’t last long. So screw it, let’s ride.”

The final copy, located at the bottom of the ad, is known in the industry as a “call to action.” It asks if the reader agrees and if so, to visit the campaign’s site. The background image there features a Wyoming-esque view of a straight empty road disappearing into the mountains. And then, the animation and voiceover of a shortened version of the print ad follows. The narrator has a deep voice with the perfect twang of a Southern man-of-the-earth. Then Harley gives you the chance to customize the “rally cry” with your own story while oh-so-innocently giving the viewer that last call to action, “Wear Our Rally Cry.” Naturally, in order to do that, the viewer has to go to the nearest dealer and spend money.

harleyscrew3.jpgWe’re sure the people at Carmichael Lynch are slapping high-fives all round as they’ve bulls-eyed the current Harley demographic’s need for both patriotism and escapism while simultaneously getting them to buy more Harley-branded bandanas and vests. However, this campaign also crystallizes Harley Davidson’s own blithe disregard toward the needs and wants of its future customers: generations X and Y.

If the youngish guy in the print ad had a choice of any bike in the Harley line-up, we’re betting he’d choose this new Europe-only XR1200 over that rickety springer hard tail he is pictured on. Except he can’t have it because he lives in America. The XR1200 is the direct descendant of Harley’s last competitive golden era, when the 1960s Sportster was the fastest production motorcycle money could buy and the epitome of American motorcycle engineering. It also combines actual performance with real, rather than camp, clichéd design, two things no other bike in the Harley range even comes close to managing.

harleyscrew4.jpgFormerly the director of marketing for GM’s ailing Pontiac division, Harley-Davidson Senior VP and CMO Mark-Hans Richer’s decision to market the Missouri-made XR as an overseas-only model is comparable to Triumph refusing to sell the Bonneville in England. As American motorcyclists, we find the fact that an American icon can be bought anywhere else in the world but here to be grossly insulting.

Also insulting is the suggestion that our patriotism and unique character as a nation can be summed up with gross commercialism and outdated, uncompetitive, and overpriced products.

If Harley is screwing anything, it’s themselves.


  • Congratulating US

    That’s a pretty rip roaring little piece of typing. I love my Harley and I love America. It’s about time all the over biased little gossip girls took their little Jap rides back to the east coast. I don’t care if Harley isn’t selling any souped up junk rockets or “sport bikes” to the proud few. I am fine sitting on my hog and leaving the over hyped x and y’s in the dust and gravel trying to get a part shipped from around the corner of world. Frankly I love HD and I love their new campaign. Why don’t you go ride a Vespa, pussy.

    • Monroe

      Man… I hate to say it, but you sound like a total douche bag, and that attitude is the reason that most people on ‘little Jap bikes’ hate Harleys.

      I own a Fat Boy and a Suzuki GSX-R 600. They’re two completely different beasts, but fun for whatever mood you’re in. There are times when a long ride calls for a comfortable hog, and times when I want to pass anyone and everyone, put my knee on the ground, and have the power to peak 115 in second gear if need be. But too often, I’ll be riding, and someone from the ‘other side’ of whatever it is that I’m on will shoot me a look, refuse to wave, or just be a prick.

      So please, stop stereotyping and hating, and just frigging be a part of the motorcycle community.

  • Eric Merrill

    Much love, Grant Ray. Great article.

  • Max

    Congratulating US; Just because you think numbing vibrations and obnoxious exhaust is the quintessential ride, doesn’t make proving your manliness through putting down scooterists “Harley bad-ass.” Maybe you should ride something other than a Harley one day. You may realize that you are quite wrong in assuming “leaving the over hyped x and y’s in the dust and gravel” is all that easy.

  • Raincity63

    I think his doo rag is on too tight. They sell an inferior product to people who are trying to buy a “lifestyle”, not a well engineered motorcycle. Selling them overpriced ego machines with patriotism is genius! Of course he would diss on scooters, he rides the biggest loudest man machine on the road! He’s tough, says so right there on his Harley payment.

  • BSAKat

    Wow Congratulating US, that was a masterful Troll. Overcompensate much? So you ride a Harley, good for you! Good on you for buying your badness a hundred dollars at a time with parts made in China and Canada and Harley branded leathers made in Pakistan. You enjoy your overpriced status symbol, I’ll see you on the road on my 30 year old Japanese bike that I paid less than a thousand dollars for and still runs more or less they way she did when she rolled off the boat.

  • marksimcox

    Whether you agree with the sentiment or not its a great visual campaign which makes people think about themselves and their relationship to their country.

    It wouldn’t work anywhere in Britain.

  • littlesmitty

    I love it when the Hardly Davidson sheeple start crowing about “American Made.” Check out those shocks buddy. Under the chrome bits, most of them say “Showa.” Tell me, where in America are Showa shocks manufactured? Check out that carb. Wonder why the factory box says “Made in Japan”? It’s because it’s a Mikuni. Oh, and those disk brakes? Nissin (Guess!) or Brembo (Italian). When it came time to build a water-cooled mill to continue meeting emissions standards, HD couldn’t muster the know-how on their own and sourced the work to the Germans via Porche. We live in a global marketplace. Nothing is manufactured all in one place anymore. Enjoy your scooter for what it is and stop pissing about where it came from, because it probably came from many of the same places as that Yamaha or Honda you turn your nose up at.

  • StevenBlack

    BSAKat and the rest of y’all…
    I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was 8 years old. I just cracked 30. I’ve owned dozens of motorcycles from Japanese manufacturers and I’ve owned a few 70′s era British scoots.
    Motorcycles are my life.
    I’ll be purchasing my 3rd Harley Davidson tomorrow.
    One of my Harley’s has been featured on the cover of a pretty major chopper magazine.
    With the exception of maybe a BMW GS1200, I honestly don’t see myself ever owning anything but Harley’s ever again.
    Because they ride.
    I don’t wear a skulldana. I’ve never owned chaps. My leather jackets have always been 70′s hand-me-downs from the local thrift shop. I don’t own any Harley Davidson teddy bears. I’ve never owned so much as a Harley t-shirt. I refuse to dress myself up as the stereotypical “Harley” biker.
    I do not love the company, by any means.
    I just love motorcycles.
    And, unfortunately, the feeling of riding a Harley is above and beyond the ride of ANY other motorcycle I’ve ever ridden.
    Trust me… I’m torn about this.
    But I can’t help it.
    Just have a seat on any HD in the dealership. Reach out and grab the controls… and compare that feeling to sitting on your chintzy, whispy little Japanese scoot.
    Harley’s just feel solid. And they feel even better runnin’ wide-open down 110 degree asphalt.
    And, what’s more, Harley provides the best platform to build what I want.
    So, until some other manufacturer steps up to the plate and offers a truly customizable motorcycle that doesn’t feel like it’s made for coffee runs at best, Harley will always be my scoot of choice.
    You have fun runnin’ your 30 year old cb350T (or whatever pile it is you’re runnin’) to your miserable job and back every day. As for me? You can find me runnin’ 110mph across lonely desert roads with no real destination.
    Say what you will about Harley and their marketing – I know from firsthand experience that all they’re doing is relaying a slightly glamorized vision of what the experience really can be for those of us who choose to actually ride our status symbols.

  • Grant Ray

    Wow, thanks for the comment “StevenBlack.” And I’m very impressed how you managed to not only slide in a call to action to get doubters into a dealership, you also gave the nudge to get them to the accessories department. The nod to “lonely desert roads with no real destination” H-D branding imagery is classic. The copywriters for Harley should get bonuses for doing such an amazing job they got guys like you to do their work for them.

    Personally, I think you read like a covert press release that is simultaneously defending the product, reinforcing the brand, dismissing competition as inferior, attempting to convert affluent BMW owners, and of course, putting in the call to action to go to the dealership with a follow-up to the accessories department. I say that because I’ve written my fair share of them when I was Creative Director at Confederate.

    You say you’re not having their pudding, Steven, but you’ve already eaten the whole pie. If you like riding around on a rickety platform that hasn’t been significantly updated in thirty to fifty years, just say so. Harleys neither feel solid nor ride well. When clients traded them in for Confederate Hellcats, we used to flog them and they shake like leaves.

    I apologize for my bluntness but come on, Steven. Stop comparing new Harley product to 30 year old Japanese or European buckets. Modern bikes from those manufacturers have moved way beyond 70′s technology and so should you. If you really are just a typical non-HD affiliated guy, then I’m hoping this response to your comment is like a bucket of cold refreshing water to bring you back to your senses. There’s way too much good product out there from Buell, Europe and Asia to fall for the Harley hype. Go shopping, take test-rides and stay away from the horrible brochures and flashy accessories departments.


    Where can I buy a “D.E.M.” and chat to the developers. If you can tell me please tell me, if not oh well I can live with out, it’s just my loss. Thanks

  • jason griese

    So glad I got My Triumph Tiger 1050 13000in 1yr 2 mo.s not a single issue except all thos Harleys slowing me down in the curves. Long ride across America Screwit lets Ride. but they never get pat the first tavern or gas station over hang if its a tad bit damp out pussy.
    And Economically sound at 50 mpg avg 5 gal tank 12000 w/abs. Love it and good article . I didn’tlike the ad from Harley any other bike sure.

    And don’t get me started on how they rope guys in on bikes/financing they can’t afford.

    Be well

    Slimey crud run this sunday. 72 stiches might not make it but you should go. Might be too chilly for the harley guy.

    GOD bless the US and Make my Triumphs In the UK .

  • USMC

    Well, What can I say. I ride a HD but would never dish another bike. Just love to ride.

  • pdub

    Well put USMC. The Harley hater brigade is a little silly. If you don’t like the bikes, DON’T RIDE THEM! Other people enjoy them and do, what’s it to you? People ride and appreciate different kinds of bikes for different reasons. Who said your ideal machine and riding experience is the freakin gospel of two wheels. Maybe you should start bitching about all sexual positions except for the one you like.
    Me? I’ll never own a Harley. Not my thing. I’ve ridden a couple nice ones though and understand their appeal. I get it. It’s the two wheel version of cruising in a classic car like a 50′s Bel Air. It’s cool. It’s fun. What’s your problem?
    Yeah the company smells evil. No lie. The marketing is more patronizing than patriotic (the point of this article). You get a load of Ducati these days though? Love their bikes but their “Brand” gimmicks and lifestyle marketing is equally nauseating as are the people who lap it up like Soma.
    Quit yer bitchin and ride.

  • Pres

    Got me two new hips regrowing my strength. I am doing it on a FLHXP, 2010 domestic. I am 59 and a half! Since 16 been having fun with every kind m/c I could afford made in the world. Just so glad not a pot belly guy as I was at one time. I have worn out 3 Harley’s. My son still has his first 1983 sporster AMF engine never rebuilt. As Rodney King once said can’t we all get along. The enemy is the BANKERS they shot first! Right now I barry s….. command us the US Navy start shelling those financial establishments. Then only then we all will be free.
    Then the screw it part hd campaign would be right and road kill less.

  • http://lh5.ggpht.com/_dWwXockqCZk/TCjB6QDTqTI/AAAAAAAACHA/mEtXqlkBkAo/P1010199.JPG JoeP

    I dig my XR1200, purchased in Feb 2009. It has been modified to reflect my Marine Corps heritage.

    Moderators: Please don’t cut the link above!

  • http://fear-of-heights-phobia.blogspot.com/2010/03/fear-of-heights-introduction.html SGreenwich

    I’m excited to be finally posting online after all these years. There really is no mystique (sp) about it, is there? I just dropped by your blog and had to write something. I’m a recent college grad, journalism major if you must know, and I love photography. I’ve got my site up but it’s nothing to brag about yet. None of my stuff’s been posted. Soon as I figure out how to do that, I’ll spend the afternoon posting my best shots. anyways just thought I’d drop a line. I hope to return with more substantial stuff, stuff you can actually use. SPG