Harley-Davidson Polemic Ad


On March 21, 09 In the New York Times, Susanna Hamner published an interesting article under the title “Harley, You’re Not Getting Any Younger”. Mostly factual, this article is listing the difficulties of Harley dealing with its bad subprime loans and aging clientele (average age is now 49). Jim Ziemer, Harley-Davidson & CEO (who will retire this year) must have felt offended to feel necessary to email his employees a letter in which he states that the New-York Times story is “one-sided and naïve” and that he will run in the same newspaper, as an answer, the ad featured here.

Point 1.  I don’t read anything in the New-York Times story that can be denied or challenged. All statements, numbers mentioned by Susanna Hammer are well known and correct, coming from Harley public and financial statements. Point 2. Jim Ziemer wrote to its employees that this specially conceived ad would be the official Harley reply. But reading and re-reading this ad I don’t find any answer to the facts or questions raised in the published article. Pont 3- I find this ad graphically very unappealing, with a text difficult to read, and a copy relying too much (and only) on the traditional same overused arguments. To summarize: “buy our motorcycles because we are American, a legend, a famous brand…and we are going to make it (financially) once again”. Anything you want, but not an answer.

Personally, I am convinced that Harley-Davidson will go through these difficult times. I think that this ad had only as objective to boost the confidence of its employees, dealers and investors. But in no way it answers the issues Harley is facing: adapting its line to a younger clientele, paying back money recently borrowed at a whopping 15% interest from “Berkshire Hathaway’ and ‘Davis Selected Advisers”, finding the new money the company needs to be able to continue lending to buyers for the rest of 2009 and beyond. I even wonder if this ad doesn’t create the eaxact opposite effect expected by Jim Ziemer: worrying employees, dealers and investors and implicitly demonstrating that Harley-Davidson, caught in the recession, still has no clear strategy in place. Read the New York Times article and state your opinion.  (Note: Since I created this Blog “The New York Times” has mentioned it several times and linked to articles I wrote).

23 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Polemic Ad”

  1. 1 Spackler Mar 29th, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Good analysis, Cyril. That ad is an over-reaction. I read the NY Times piece and thought it was pretty evenhanded, and really didn’t say anything those of us who follow the industry didn’t already know.

  2. 2 Mike Greenwald Mar 30th, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Harley Davidson wants help from the consumers. Let’s see how they have helped the consumer. I need not surface the abandonment of the customer base with the various engine configurations. I need not remind the readers of other areas of abandonment where they protect all sorts of words and phrases referring to once famous or infamous models produced by HD.

    Possibly, it is the betrayal of confidence in HD as a company that is the heart of their troubles. Weren’t these people in trouble once before and needed a government bailout? IF history repeats itself, why help them now?

    Each and everyone of you can name one of Harley Davidsons sharp business practices. Add them all up and they do not add up to a 15% premium that they will charge you on your new bike in order to pay back Berkshire-Hathaway.

    I would say that it is a mockery of the flag of the USA and a blatant push for nationalism rather than patriotism to support a has been bottom feeder like HD.

    Rather than dressing up bikes in your “dark” series and charging high prices for the bikes, make a bike that is exactly half the price and be honest about it. Price gouging for obscene profit got you into trouble and you want the taxpayer and every other Tom, Dick and Harry to bail out the profits that you lost and not the principal. You made your money and profits are off. Time to stop repeating the same mistake and covering it up with a new piece of flaking chrome.

  3. 3 Bobfather Mar 30th, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I remember seeing a shirt a few years back that said something like Harley Davidson, 1903-2003, died of greed. Seemed like an appropriate statement to me. I’m not a fan of the motor company, haven’t been for a number of years and for a multitude of reasons most notably their wanting to squash the entire aftermarket industry. The same aftermarket industry that helped keep their company alive when their bikes were leaking, ill running steaming piles. No sympathy coming from me.

  4. 4 Brad Mar 30th, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Jim Ziemer made a huge marketing mistake by advertising the NY Times article to all employees and dealers. This ad is just a desperate ”no answer” to the article and shows that Harley is in a panic state. The right thing to do after publication of the NY Times was… to do nothing. I agree, the ad is ugly, difficult to read and understand. Time for Ziemer to retire.

  5. 5 Scott Mar 30th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Another example of Ziemer being out of touch with reality. I have a simple plan for them to survive this financial quagmire we are in.

    First, knock of te BS. Quit trying to be something you are not. The thought of an over bloated corporation trying to have a badass attitude makes me fall to the floor in an hysterical fit.

    Sesond, drop the custom line. What a joke this is. Skulls and the dark image? Ziemer must think we are all satan worshippers. Most 1st graders have better artistic skills than some of HD’s crap.

    Third, get back to the basics. Introduce more economical models. Cut your prices by three or four thousand dollars.

    The motor company truly has lost touch since Jim Ziemer has taken the helm. I feel no pity for the Board of Directors and major stock holders. They get what they deserve.

    Screw it lets ride? Screw you Ziemer

  6. 6 Grayhawk Mar 30th, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Jim Ziemer is a bean counter not a motorcycle purist, yes he gets a bike, yes he has been with the motor company forever, yes he puts on the new leathers and do dads when posing for photo ops or attends a function a few of times a year but no mistake he is a an accountant first and foremost.

    Harley contract dealers, they are not franchise holders you know, survived in the earlier years when other American motorcycle manufacturors failed mainly due to small overheads, low payouts to employees and Harley’s government and police contracts and a bit of luck where most of the main American competition still remaining in business were worst business managers then Harley was and as such went by the wayside.

    Noting the goverment contracts were for the most part in those days the motor company deals and not the individual dealers so direct infusion to the factory. So Harley idled along for years until the economic slow down in late 60’s and they could not save themselves.

    Along comes 70’s and they’re underwater. AMF had bailed them out ,the brand that is, and bought some time. For all the negative publicity AMF has gotten over the years and yes quality sucked and mainly due to being one of the first outsourcing endeavor takers to cut upfront cost by contracting parts out to unproven overseas manufacturors, they saved Harleys life briefly buying enough time for the insider group to pool their money and buy the company back.

    Along comes the Evo motor and FXR platform and they were no longer neck deep, Harley picked up some good marketing people and planning based management and a bit of luck and good marketing ideas that grabbed a generation of bikers along with weekend warriors that rode a crest from the purchasing power of the largest segment of the US population that wanted to be part of the status and fad if you will, along with being a part of the in your wind feelings we all love.

    Then just like big goverment, big companies pursue one sided contracts that mandate dealers must meet compliance or else someone else could have the contract rights you worked so hard for were being forced out or persvaded into moving up to a designer store mindset a, “you really must do this for good business practices sake and future growth”,. Increased revenue and increased overheads began mainly from the fad needs and wants and the lust for capturing the golden egg while it was still for the taking in the golden era.

    In a lot of cases for mainly big city dealers it worked well especially when bike availability drove the market and prices and big city dealers or high volumn dealers that sold units in and out of their markets just to move units, i.e. and pay for those monster size stores, the car sales mentality first hand.

    But did not as well for smaller dealers in smaller markets that were doing business in an atmosphere burdened above their norm, although most did profit from those prime years but at what long term costs where the overheads are still there and revenue is spirling down much like some of the independent and custom shops that rode the same wave.

    Baby Boomers are aging but not quite as fast as some are writing the obit. But instead a bit of the fad was slowing before the economic slowdown and Europe, Asia and the south lands were increasingly becoming buyers along with women just not to the extent needed to keep pace with almost 400,000 unit production a year, which was now almost doubling the 1998 production.

    Now the economics or lack of start coming into into play and Harleys financial deboggled overleveraged wing and its now a big problem for the motorcompany.

    Production numbers slow down increasingly over the last few years as economy slows further but that like all businesses can be managed with downsizing and increased customer care. That Not withstanding those smaller dealers with big overheads in smaller markets with less reserves put back are the ones to watch as they will suffer most plus a few overleverage bigger dealers as well.

    Now the strangling grip on the motor company is two fold , First the bean counter/financal wings of the company are expierencing challenges, not much different than issues/challenges going on with the car people, i.e. overproducing, over-leveraging, providing financing for units to individuals that could not/should not meet the requirements, yes subprime lending again, and for some lack of coming out with the desired model units by the design and production departments.

    Now the money flow has come to a screeching stop, eligible buyers are holding onto their wallets, and those that can meet the notes that once far out number those that could not which kept the machine rolling along brings us to the point we are now at, an over leveraged company that has trouble selling its financial paper needed to roll on even with downsizing, whoops.

    Secondly in my opinion Harley insite or the lack of foresight that has failed to address a couple key issues. Unlike the import brands for instance who have engaged in a cradle to grave approach to brand their products from manufacturoring for the very young to the end of ones riding days and producing models for all years and stages of life in-between.
    The motor company choose to ride the baby boomers wallet to the end thinking outsourcing for a trike would solve are weakening legs and keep us riding longer, some merit but again not the answer.
    Noting the entry level Sportster model introduction to Harley for a young rider is way too late in their riding life as they have been branded earlier in life by the import business approach and not necessarily rolling over to a Harley. Yes there is a number of us that pass the generational torch but not in the numbers to support the big machine, H-D, as it is today. No Buell is not the answer and the jury is still out on the Italian MV infusion and where it may go unless they bring out a Hummer type smaller unit with maybe the single cylinder or a mini Sportster that you sit in not on would help who knows time will tell.

    Harley will survive but in a lesser form but not sure of same for all the downhome dealers especially in smaller markets with big operating costs. We need to support those dealers just like the independents and custom shops as we are all entwined. Maybe just maybe Harley will get a bit of pre-car/bean counter mentality and posture for the young guy and gal, the little guy as well as the big spender or big operator and make some units for the kids to grow from and into Vtwin’s before it is too late.


  7. 7 Mad River Motor Company Mar 30th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Maybe they should steal a new motto….

    Oh wait, they’ve already done that….

    Sorry DiCE

  8. 8 choppertom Mar 30th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    i agree, this ad sucks.

    if the motor company were so red-white-blue, they really woudn’t play to this substandard type of advertisement.

    it’s just media hyped patriotic bullshit……..

    stop building bikes with japanese parts. if i want any more freedom rhetoric-i’ll go to wal-mart and buy a japanese made american flag.

  9. 9 Robin Mar 30th, 2009 at 12:16 pm
  10. 10 Kenny Price Mar 30th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    its very funny in harleys ad they dont even know which way a throttle is turned. read the ad, its obviously written by someone who has never ridden. we all know the throttle is twisted backward, no forward ha ha what an ignorant statement. oh yea i guess i do twist forward to STOP!

  11. 11 The Vintagent Mar 30th, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Harley’s current situation reminds me of the British industry in the 1970’s – muddle-headed corporate types with no real strategy are running the show, more concerned with business-school philosophy than with motorcycles. It’s a case of Branding run wild. We all know Harley makes its money from its Brand; t-shirts and swag are the real income source, they just happen to make motorcycles too. But, Brand thinking can run away from itself, and it’s time to go back to the fundamentals – motorcycles and riders. They seem to be doing Nothing with MV Agusta; at least when they bought Aermacchi we got a lot of cool dirt bikes immediately! Where are the sportbikes now? They have clearly financed themselves into a real corner with subprime lending and the MV purchase. What a mess.

    And yes, graphically the ad is a ripoff of Ben Shawn’s antiwar posters from the 1960’s, and is difficult to read, but the sentiment isn’t so bad in my opinon. The economy in general needs a boost, and our consumer-driven structure means that only our spending will save us, ironically. Good point about ‘rolling the throttle forward’; what dork at Corporate approved THAT?

  12. 12 rodent Mar 30th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Jim Zimmer started as a elevater operator and worked up to CEO much like a Chicago punk made the white house

  13. 13 TPEvans Mar 30th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Wow – I just checked my calendar, and it is in fact “Take a dump on Harley Day”. After reading and absorbing all of the wisdom offered here, it seems all Harley needs to do is fire the “bean counters”. After that, its a golden road to success. No need to worry about that money thing – it should take care of itself.

    One more tip I have picked up from this page – when your product is in strong demand and you actually have a waiting list for it, you should never ever raise prices to increase profit for the owners of the company, otherwise known as shareholders. Sounds great to me. Since the total number of motorcycles that can be produced is limited, there will have to be another method developed to determine who gets to purchase one at the lower price.

    I don’t know how this might work, but fortunately the Matrix will soon offer one in the health care industry that can be copied. It will be widely praised, but mainly because criticism such as that found on this page will be forbidden.

    Is this a great country or what?

  14. 14 CEO of AMF Mar 30th, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Harley’s attempt to market to the Gen Y crowd seems to be backfiring somewhat. The “black book”, this ad, the dark customs, it is all kinda cool, but in the same breathe, feels kindds icky. Like when you hear someone over the age of 18 say “that’s dope” or “da bomb”… anyway… this ad is just another example of how the marketers at HD still don’t get it.

    SHOW THE BIKE… stop trying to get me to buy into the Gen Y, 20 something, look at me. I am hard core, ad campaigns and show your product.

  15. 15 Jesse James Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:32 am

    CEO of AMF… that’s awesome! I could not agree more.

  16. 16 Zach Mar 31st, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Everyone seems to be all over Ziemer here and I agree he bears most of the responsibility for HDs current financial situation, but some blame has to be put on the greedy dealers (Insert your local dealer rip-off story here) and on Willie G for his failure to attract a younger buyer.

    Willie after all is the Chief Styling Officer, or something like that, and in that role has been so protective of the history & styling of the bikes that 20 years later they don’t look any different. Hoo boy we have a new color paint available for the Ultra Glide this year! That is not innovation.

    Yeah the V-Rod was a great attempt to lure younger buyers, but when you price it at 2-3 times the cost of a crotch rocket it remains out of the reach to the audience for which it was intended.

    Innovate, adapt or go the way of the Indian motorcycle. Oh wait Indian is back again! Have you seen the prices on those bikes! I give em 18-months before they shut their doors once again.

  17. 17 Boss Dog Apr 1st, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Go figure. Just like every other GREEDY comany in this country the corporate gurus at HD have BS’d there way to the top. HD buyers are blind sheep. The very image they try to “pose” fills the pockets of the richest men in America as they laugh all the way to the bank. Overpriced and underdeveloped pieces of junk. Now the cockroaches are scurring in the light and you mark my words. HD is gonna be holding their hand out for tax dollars because they need “help”. This country is headed down a goose grease slope.

  18. 18 softail Apr 6th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I didn’t read the news article I read all of the comments and agree with some and disagree with others. Rather than discuss each on individually, I thought I’d just point out that Harley has 43% of the market. All the rest have the remaining 57%. Makes me think they can’t be as bad as some think.

    One specific remark….After reading his remark, I think I understand why “Rodent” got this name.


  19. 19 Buzzard Apr 8th, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Yes, the flag ad is the same old tired rehashed cliches and pseudo tough guy dumb ass bravado claptrap and nearly impossible to read anyway.

    And yes, H-D overbuilt its production capacity expecting the boom times to last forever (or at least longer than this). But really, how many “ordinary” people really want or need a motorcycle of any kind, let alone the chrome incrusted fashion statement pieces of rolling jewelry that Harley sells at god-awful prices?

    And once you have one, you don’t really ever need to get a new one because they aren’t ridden much anyway and they don’t change much either. They sit 90% of the time in a garage under cover while people use their cars for most driving needs. As a toy they are a luxury item.

    But to blame this on elevator operator turned CEO Ziemer is a mistake. This same philosophy and strategy was totally developed and implemented during the Bleustein regime. I can well remember Bleustein saying how there could a big bad Harley in nearly every suburban garage next to the speedboat, etc. It was a fairy dream that Ziemer inherited. Bleustein got out, sold his stock high, and since then has silently watched from the sidelines. Maybe he even knew this was coming. At least his timing was perfect.

    But this all happened once before. After WWI H-D way overbuilt its production capacity, but with the Model T and a turning away from motorcycles in general, that capacity was not reached again until WWII came along some 20 years later. And WWII was a TOTAL government & taxpayer funded bailout! Every WLA army bike had 16 spare parts made for every piece of the bike at the govt’s request. That stuff is still turning up today in brand new boxes!

    Like one guy from Harley said: Everyone needs a can of tomatoes, but nobody needs a motorcycle.

  20. 20 Mike Greenwald Apr 8th, 2009 at 10:55 am


    I am glad you have removed all doubt when you opened your mouth for your diatribe.

    I don’t know the crowd you hang with or live amongst but, the people I know ride a lot of miles.

    The reason that everybody does not need a motorcycle is not as you have stated. The reasons are many and most of the reasons boil down to those that can think much better while on a motorcycle and those that can’t.

    You have been quick to quip with your view of Harley Davidson and yet offered no solution. What is your solution?

  21. 21 Buzzard Apr 8th, 2009 at 1:08 pm


    I’m not the guy paid to come up with a solution. That’s the job of guys like Ziemer and Bleustein, both of whom have bailed or are in the process of bailing. Duh!

    Riding a motorcycle so you can “think much better”? Are you saying it raises your IQ or what exactly? Hey, that sounds like a great new H-D ad campaign! Probably you mean the exact opposite of that: So you don’t have to think about everyday BS and can daydream and blow the cobwebs out of your brain — as long as the traffic isn’t too heavy or a deer doesn’t jump in front of you.

    Sure, I’ll bet your group puts on a LOT of miles. Right. But even if they do, they are in the minority. Most Harleys sit 99% of the time and have very low mileage on the odometer. They essentially remain brand new forever. That’s not a secret.

    But I suppose a solution would be another world war and BIG military contracts for motorcycles, this time with a 100 spare parts per bike. Maybe 1000 spares!

    Everyone should have sold their Harley stock when Bleustein did. That guy was smart! The rest believed in the fairy tale.

  1. 1 What Do You Think? - Harley Davidson Forums Pingback on Mar 30th, 2009 at 2:38 pm
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