Harley Davidson Reactions, FTW

Dailies -



Before you get excited, no. No, you will not see anything near this smart in the United States, land of Screw It. Carmichael Lynch, Harley-Davidson’s Agency of Record, dreams it was this savvy. Plus the brand managers, a.k.a. bane of creative directors, who work for the US division of Harley-Davidson would likely hyperventilate in sheer panic at the thought of approving work this whip-smart, funny, stereotyping and contentious all at the same time. This brief campaign came from Ogilvy’s South African branch, and is easily the smartest work we’ve seen since Grey’s famed You Meet the Nicest People campaign in 1962 for Honda.


Harley-Davidson-Ogilvy2.jpgAll three images are taken from the view-point of the rider on a random street, possibly at a stop light in some suburban setting. As you’ve noticed, there are two glaring omissions these print ads. The product is never shown, nor is there a single line of copy to sell the product. In the US, omitting either would be considered highly risqué, and the lack of both could be suicidal for an agency. But it utterly works for Harley in this case, and that’s because the image says it all. Along with the little logo discreetly placed in the lower corner.

Baby boomer nostalgia is perfectly grasped here, subtly using period sets and naturally lit photography reminiscent of classic reportáge. The crying baby, the leery old lady and the mad barking shepard below all allude to the image of the archetypal outlaw biker the Harley brand mystique is so entrenched in. All three ads convey the fear of the onlooker in the presence of the biker on a Harley-Davidson. However the expressions of the baby and the old lady go beyond the call of duty and are actually funny.

Harley-Davidson-Ogilvy3.jpgQuite frankly, in the motorcycle industry, this is advertising and lifestyle marketing at its finest. You know, Harley, Ogilvy & Mather happens to be based here in New York City.
Maybe you could give them a ring sometime?

via Jabulela

  • Core

    You know.. I guess the ads, just too smart for me. (Well its more a lack of not knowing the culture)

    I looked at all three images… and wondered…
    What’s wrong with the baby?
    What’s wrong with the old lady?
    What the hell is wrong with that damn dog?!

    • V

      I guess you’re why adverts like this would fail stateside.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Core, that’s exactly how I first reacted, and I think how you are supposed to react. For me, I basically broke it down like this:


      Oh, wait. These are Harley ads.
      But, what’s wrong with them?
      Why are they scared?
      And what are they looking at? I think they’re looking at me.
      They’re all in old cars on the street, scared shitless of me.
      I think.
      But it’s a Harley ad, so… AH! IMA BIKER!
      Scary, like back in the day, no bullshit, and I make babies cry.


      Mission accomplished.

  • Loud pipes are annoying

    Absolutely hilarious. Notice the old lady is locking her car door. Look at the tree branch reflections on the window of the Shepherd- see anything Rorschach style?

  • rider66

    No kind of advertising will help the Harley image. Every time someone mentions a Harley I think of some older pot bellied guy with tattoos and a pony tail and a beard riding a loud motorcycle with 3 foot handle bars and saddle bags with tassels.

  • http://Http://www.txsbr.com Benjamin

    Fantastic. Absolutely.

  • prichinello

    Epic, all the way. The one of the lady locking the door. amongst my sport bikes, I have a dirty 68 panhead. This is the reaction you get from people when you rumble past them on it. I’m a skinny, good guy, but the bike speaks louder.

  • Shawn

    Still the best motorcycle ad….


  • PatrickVA

    I think they’re brilliant. Ads aren’t supposed to talk to everyone, just to potential or current customers. Harley’s target audience may be middle aged (the pot-bellied accountant we always pick on), but in his mind he’s a 1%er. This supports that.

    Great find, Grant.

  • http://psrey.com/wp @Reyzie

    Nah. They’re not afraid! It’s their stock broker, dentist or Santa on that Harley! They’re aggravated by all the push-rod and valve train noise! lol

  • Jordan J.

    Despite the bad image it promotes, I like the old Ninja commercials the most.


  • http://www.fertilecreative.com Sasha

    Why are all the cars so old? To make it look like a vintage ad?

  • Sid
  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D.

    OH NO! Its a financial planner in $500 chaps!! Run for the hills!

    Its kind of funny that Harley builds its reputation on the “baddass biker” image, which itself was created out of thin air by bored, sensationalistic journalists in the 50′s and 60′s. Although, I have to say, a finacial planner who rides anything at all is cooler than a financial planner who doesn’t.

  • Trav

    mmm. escaping the personal reality that you can’t deal with by annoying others.. that’s what harleys are for? Fantastic.

  • Loud pipes are annoying

    Yeah what’s up with old cars? I have no idea what the baby’s car is. The old lady’s is Ford Fairmont I think, and Wolfee is in a late 70’s Mercedes 450SEL? It all adds to the intrigue.

  • Harleys are Useless

    No amount of any type of advertising would get me the slightest interested in a Harley. A Harley, to me, is a useless outdated machine only used to annoy other people with there senseless loud exhaust by the inconsiderate suckers who buy them.

  • nobody

    Cute. It also gives that “If Harleys annoy you, then you must be one of these 3″. Judging by the stereotypical internet responses seen above, they are spot on.

    Speaking of ads & Harleys, can anybody find the one Kodak did in the mid/late ’80′s (?) with the guy on the Sportster riding around? It was probably the best Harley ad ever made – and it wasn’t a Harley ad. It was around 30 seconds long.

  • http://damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien


  • DoctorNine

    I don’t ride because I want to make babies cry. And for some weird reason, I can almost always calm a dog down just by a look and a word. Even trained pit bulls. I guess that must be why I stopped riding Harleys. I just don’t get off on people hating me. Obviously. Trav pegged it.

  • sburns2421

    Considering Harley couldn’t ever run honest ads about being better performing, more reliable, or better value for the money, this sounds like all they have left.

    “Because of my H-D I am a complete bad*** rebel. I scare babies and make old women nervous. Cross me and I’ll shoot your dog and **** your sister.”

    I wonder if Harley management will wear their tough-guy clothes when they attend H-D’s eventual bankruptcy hearings?

  • The Grudz

    These are very smart. Great photos. Makes wanna buy a…well, no.

  • Max

    Harleys (the bikes) are great, and exactly what their customers want. The management sucks, with decisions like killing Buell (and lose $150 million) instead of selling it (and make $75 million), and having Elton John headline their 100th anniversary concert (ooo-gaa!). But if you want performance, fluid smoothness and quiet motoring, get something else. Harleys are exactly as they should be, and why they’ve been so successful in the past. They are modern interpretations of 60′s motorcycles.

    The buyers? Now many of those guys you have good reason to hate. Hell, even Jesse James is hated nowadays.

    I’d still like to have one parked next to my Hayabusa, though.

    The ads are great – too bad Harley’s marketing guys are total pussies and would never put out something so….proper.

  • fish_bate

    Scare babies with your Harley so they will have an ingrained, subconscious fear and hatred of them. So much for future markets.

    The woman is locking her door because she is afraid the Harley rider will jack her car, in need of a reliable way home.

    Also, the dog seems to have the ability to show its feelings towards Harley riders the way most people would like to. “I want to rip this guys face clean off!” Good dog, you deserve a cookie.

  • bobx

    those are great.

  • Stefano

    I’m curious/

    what are the best Moto ads out there?

  • Mears

    Having ridden a harley I do understand why they are the most desired of all of the motorcycle brands.

    They are the McDonalds of motorcycles with a Ruth’s Chris image and price premium. Bland handling, bland power and comfortable ergos. Beginners bikes. Combine that with brute force marketing and magically you have a popular motorcycle.

  • Tom

    Makes me wonder, if this is a South African ad, why are the drivers on the left of the car instead of the right?

    Actually in SA, people love bikers. I rode a GS500E with an SA friend and cars pulled over (to the left) all the time for us. Waaay more BMWs with knobbies than Harleys though. This add would be more like if a SA driver saw a “taxi” full of exiles from Zimbabwe or Swaziland.

  • Ray

    I would be afraid of being sued rather than beaten by a harley rider.

  • johnny

    best bike ads ever!

  • Pamberjack

    They are what is called “award ads” in the ad industry.

    They are not real ads, i.e. they never would have run in a magazine or on a billboard – at least not more than a single time in a single magazine etc. They are simply designed to win awards and impress others in the ad industry.

    What do you think are the chances of HD forking out hundreds and thousands of dollars to run a campaign that doesn’t even have a product shot or website address on it? Not likely…

  • Pamberjack

    Arguing about one style of motorbike being better or worse than another style of motorbike is as pointless as arguing than an apple is better or worse than an orange.

    Todd8080 sounds totally blinkered. But I’d say exactly the same thing about the guys who call HDs “agricultural”.

    Each to his own…

    • DoctorNine

      Well see, the problem with your arguement there, is that apples ARE better than oranges. Because they are grown in the great union state of Michigan. While oranges are grown in evil non-union states like Florida and California and Texas.

      (practices breathing through his mouth for fun)

  • Bonner

    Thanks for that, we don’t see civility or common sense in the comments section of this blog often.

  • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

    Don’t adjust your television set. We’ve removed about 30 comments from this discussion in an effort to facilitate intelligent, insightful discussion.

    General HFL commenting guidelines: be smart, witty, funny, on-topic and nice. Contribute something. Failure to comply will result in comment deletion. Repeat offenders will have their IP addresses banned.

    Come on guys, enough with the masculine chest thumping and the name calling. Put your brains back in your heads, take a deep breath and have a conversation, not a shouting match. We’re all much happier that way.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      I also pulled some comments that weren’t bad, but lost context.

  • http://setthemfree.tumblr.com Sasha Pave

    Glad to see overseas brand managers WHO HAVE A PAIR!

  • Ken

    Ad creatives work best when they can get their heads around the product. HD has often (not always) produced good advertising because it’s the easiest motorcycle brand for non-biking creatives to parse. The guys who did this will deservedly win awards, and then they’ll get bigger jobs with better salaries that they’ll use to buy what they themselves want, which is Porsches.

  • Gus

    “No kind of advertising will help the Harley image. Every time someone mentions a Harley I think of some older pot bellied guy with tattoos and a pony tail and a beard riding a loud motorcycle with 3 foot handle bars and saddle bags with tassels. (ridder 66)”

    This is funny,.. most Harley riders think of the other doctors, dentist, and retirees who spend ridiculous money on leather, tassels, and saddle bags. The MOCO is too well established among those who can afford to buy a new bike every 1-3 years to run this ad on large scale in the states and put off that crowd. HD needs to just increase advertising in the AARP mags. HD would be fools to run those ads here,..

    But hey there is always the “Dark Custom” for your inner badass. (i just spit up a tiny bit)

    For the rest of us HD riders,.. there’s the used market for cheap bikes with less than 5k miles on the clock that grandpa just can’t stand to ride. Thanks Gramps!


  • Kelly

    Pamberjack knows what he’s talking about. These ads were made cheaply and without a major media spend behind them for the purpose of an award show.

    Your criticism of the MOCO’s internal organization is correct. Remember, with any marketing campaign the client has final say in what gets produced. H-D is extremely involved (worldwide) with the artistic and creative decisions of advertising campaigns.

    I like the creative execution here, but in my mind it doesn’t do anything for the brand. The majority of the audience of HFL seems to cry out for change in the H-D brand, this doesn’t bring a differing perspective to the conversation, instead it reinforces the myth of the rebel that so many here find untrue.

    There will be a time when H-D becomes self-aware and brings honest alignment to the product, communications and community that rides…it’s just not today.

  • shovelhead82

    looove seeing what all the harley haters and lovers have to say about each other and their bikes………while most of you just plunk down your money and say “i want that one” and maybe add some shinies and stock up on leather and vitriol. you really wanna know, some of us think that new bikes in general don’t have much going for them but we respect the rights of those who own them to ride them. you guys tend to sound like my first year in high school, when everybody had to have whatever the cool brand of sneaker was for that season. yes, harley has been capitalizing on an image they don’t deserve, but both harley and honda have done wonderful jobs of sucking in their customers with the goldwing riders club or assoc or whatever and HOG, programs that were developed to ensure customer loyalty and make their respective companies scads of money. as for those who bitch about the noise, suck it up suzy. your afternoon ride on your bike will create much more and lasting pollution than that created by loud pipes. air pollution lasts, noise pollution disappears with the noise. so if you don’t want to be hypocritical, go electric or ride a bicycle. otherwise, shut up. let the fat guys ride their harleys and cruisers, let the yups ride whatever the hell it is they ride, let the speed junkies ride what they ride, let the goldwingers ride their big ole bikes. and grow up

  • shawn

    I’m jumping on this way too late… But when it comes to the technology of a Harley…. sometimes ya just got to say…. “Eh, it’s good enough”.

    Don’t get me wrong…. The new RSV4 Factory is awesome. I’d love to have the money to own one. But really?…. would any of us ever ride it to it’s limits. If so… it would have to be on a track.

    For the 35mph speed limits around town…. who cares about the “ride by wire”, “liquid-cooled”, race machines everyone raves about on here….. You’ll never get to push them.

    Harley knows this… so they make a bike that looks classic, rides alright, and puts around town just fine. And being that they sell more bikes than anyone else….. most people would agree.