Harley-Davidson Is Trying to Cultivate Millennials While Catering To Loyalists. Seeking A New Generation Of riders Via Digital And Mobile

This story first appeared in the Oct. 2, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine

Ever wanted to hop on a Harley-Davidson Iron 883 motorcycle and weave through gridlocked Manhattan streets? How about hitting the expanse of historic Route 66 while feeling your tires on the asphalt and the wind against your skin? Turns out you can—at least virtually.
Those scenarios are just two of the many available to players of the upcoming Ubisoft video game The Crew 2, an open-road racing adventure set to debut in March 2018. The game is one of the unconventional ways that Harley-Davidson, a 114-year-old legacy brand, is reaching out to millennials and women as it looks to broaden its consumer base beyond its core baby boomers.

The Crew 2 is “gender agnostic,” and like its hit predecessor, The Crew—which has amassed 12 million players—is expected to appeal to young male and female gamers and potentially anyone with a passion for motor sports, said Stephane Jankowski, producer at Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower Studio, which created the franchise.

“We used a lot of feedback from the community in developing the new game,” Jankowski said. “We’ve taken a sandbox approach where players can create their own stories and ask themselves, ‘What do I want to do today?’”

That tactic could help expand the global player pool for Ubisoft and increase the exposure and age range for Harley, which plans to integrate more models into the game’s upgrades next year. And since the franchise earned a PG-13 rating for its first installment, on par with Disney’s live-action flicks, it provides a kid-friendly antidote to the hyper-violent Grand Theft Autos of the world. (The Crew 2 hasn’t been rated yet.)

Many children, by the time they’re 8 or 9 years old, have had “a motorcycle moment,” according to Harley’s research, meaning that they’ve been exposed to riding through someone they know or via a piece of pop culture and want to experience it for themselves, said Heather Malenshek, the brand’s vp, global marketing.

“This is a no-risk environment for them to try out riding and have fun with it,” she said of The Crew 2, which offers a realistic virtual jaunt with no road rash. “And it links to our long-term goals of planting the seed with kids and young adults who can become the next generation of riders.”

“We’ve taken a sandbox approach where players can create their own stories.” -Stephane Jankowski, producer at Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower Studio, which created The Crew franchise.

The game is a solid marketing match for Harley because it allows for customization and embraces a “thrill-seeking, adventure-loving” psychographic looking for “freedom on two wheels,” execs said.

Developers completely remodeled the U.S. cities and highways in The Crew 2 which, for the first time, lets players switch from road vehicles like Harleys, Ferraris and Porsches to boats and planes to amp up the stakes and challenge gamers’ skills.

This isn’t the iconic brand’s first link to video games, having embedded its motorcycles in Atari’s Test Drive Unlimited 2 and Sega’s King of the Road. Two Harley-branded games of its own, Race Around the World and Race Across America, came from Wizard Works.

In another millennial-skewing move, Harley also re-signed a deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship last year. The partnership, which began in 2007, includes viewing parties at local dealerships, “UFC Fight for the Troops” events on U.S. military bases and hiring MMA talent like Cain Velasquez and Paige VanZant as spokespeople for the brand.

Much of Harley’s recent outreach has happened on digital and mobile, with live video and branded content, contributing to a 6 percent sales bump between 2010 and 2016 among young demos, women, Latinos and African Americans, accounting for 40 percent of the company’s U.S. sales, execs said.
Digging in further, Harley recently rolled out its 2018 model year products with a group of social influencers, including actor Jason Momoa, who posted a hero shot on Instagram.

With its goal of 2 million U.S. riders by 2027, Harley is also focused on understanding “consumer life stages, cultural shifts and where people are in their riding journey, despite age or gender,” Malenshek said.

A new TV ad campaign with the tagline “All for freedom, freedom for all” aims to cultivate new audiences while still catering to the loyalists. The spots come from Team Ignite, a new IPG division that won the Harley creative, media and digital business last year after a global review.
The work, using Primal Scream’s Movin’ on Up as a soundtrack, features riders of all stripes, including women, youngsters, weekend warriors, professional racers and a pug wearing goggles and a Harley hoodie. The goal, Malenshek said, is inviting “riders and nonriders across the globe to embrace their individuality.”

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18 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Is Trying to Cultivate Millennials While Catering To Loyalists. Seeking A New Generation Of riders Via Digital And Mobile”


  1. 1 58_pan Oct 4th, 2017 at 10:38 am

    If they want to generate any interest they have to get off their politically correct asses and get the bikes into Grand Theft Auto because that’s what millennials are playing, otherwise they just have five year olds riding their Harleys in a kids video game.

  2. 2 pabstbluerigid Oct 4th, 2017 at 11:15 am

    start with a product sporting an accessible price point? and dealership employees who can address or have comfort with a younger sect.

    58_pan made a good point, and UFC…I dunno.

    my son is their prime target, also a US Serviceman…not brand loyal despite my riding HD for 30-plus yrs but price, quality & style drive him. his friends work 2-3 jobs to pay bills, thus long distance and the need for comfy “full size” bikes are “out.” they want local scrambler/hopper bikes and the street is NOT neat, and pricey.

    they flocking to good ol’ 92-2003 sportys for $1999-2500 all day long.

    and that new 2017-18 Honda Rebel – sportin’ the CBR500 powerplant with a new body style at $5500-5700-ish (for a 500cc) and less for the 300cc? that’s pretty hot, seein’ more & more. many Groms (Honda) in our local college town too!!!

    jus sayin, jus watchin.’

  3. 3 Fzzzz Oct 4th, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Young people place great emphasis on reliability, as they are computer savvy and generally not mechanically inclined. Wheel bearings that wear out at 50,000 miles or hydraulic cam chain tensioners that wear out prematurely are considered wildly substandard. At present prices, the product better be bullet proof if you want to sell to that crowd. Even diehard Harley riders are getting sick of the Motor Company’s lack of engineering expertise and quality control.

  4. 4 Tom Ryan Oct 4th, 2017 at 11:55 am

    58_pan may have something to increase youth interest. I’ve never been a video game player myself so I was just wondering if Harley advertises on Xbox and other youth oriented sites etc. What you probably need are a bunch of soapy Victoria Secrets girls in ads shining up and riding their HD’s. I would imagine that many of the older HD riders also wouldn’t mind buying large posters or even calenders of these soaped up babes. And, don’t forget about the line ups at motorcycle events if the VS girls were autographing their HD posters.

  5. 5 Xenu Oct 4th, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Great idea.
    Kids don’t grow up outside riding a Schwinn, they live online.
    Maybe this will spark them to buy a Livewire bagger when they cash in their meager 401Ks.
    Or not

  6. 6 BobS Oct 4th, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    “Danielson, walk on left side of road ok. Walk on right side of road ok. Walk in middle road…squish like grape.” Harley runs the risk of turning off both young and old riders here. I like what they’re doing with their heavy weight cruisers. If there were more like me Victory would be successful and Indian would be dead. Will be again soon anyway but that’s not the point. A moderately more modern version of a Harley doesn’t appeal to young people and it doesn’t appeal to HD loyalists. If they’re going to go after young people they’ve got to get all the way on the other side of the road.

  7. 7 Guzzi Greg Oct 5th, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Build a quality product at a competitive price point,lose the foot forward gynecologist chair seating and the let’s pretend I’m a bad boy image.Handling and braking are paramount, something HD got right ONCE WITH THE XR1200 and they will buy.Learn from your competitors.

  8. 8 burnout Oct 5th, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Sooooo why ride a ”Real” bike then? peace

  9. 9 Hillbilly Jim Oct 5th, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Seems to me Harley doesn’t need to learn anything from others at least in style and design. For years the competition has desperately tried to mimic Milwaukee’s styling. However they alwats seem to fall short.

  10. 10 Zundap Oct 5th, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    HD should build virtual motorcycles that can be ridden in the bedroom. Last year at the AIMExpo the younger riders were lined up thirty deep waiting their turn to ride it. As far as HD for everyday transportation they are too expensive, heavy,and antiquated. Look at what Indian is doing to HD on the race track right out of the box. HD, a good bike for Geezers like me who are analog riders in a digital world.

  11. 11 fuji Oct 5th, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Video game , 20 inch fan with optional water misting nozzle and dew rag for effect.

    Place in your front yard by the street for people to notice you. Why buy the bike ?

  12. 12 .357 Magnum Oct 6th, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Looks like this website has attracted a “Squid,” by the name of Guzzi Greg! He calls the standard sitting position, “gynecologist chair seating,” as if he thinks the sportbike position, wadding up your legs underneath your backside and putting your upper-body weight on your wrists, is supposed to be more comfortable. It kind of makes me wonder whether he has ever seen a dining room chair, living room comfy chair, car seat, or hey, even a toilet! If the sportbike position was comfortable, Greg, you’d see it all those places… but it isn’t, so you don’t. The standard position is what people really want.

    Greg goes on to write, “HD got right ONCE WITH THE XR1200 and they will buy.” Greg apparently doesn’t remember that the reason the XR1200 was discontinued was because nobody *was* buying. We know Greg is exactly backwards wrong on that.

    He wraps up by writing, “Learn from your competitors.” But of course, there *aren’t* any competitors in the US that sell as many units as HD does.

    Be careful what you read on the internet; if you don’t study your facts, you might end up making yourself look as foolish as Guzzi Greg just did!

  13. 13 Pat h Oct 6th, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    357 is exactly right, lots of bs information spewing out of misinformed “I read it on the Internet it must be true” idiots their not hard to recognize

  14. 14 Xenu Oct 6th, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Moto Guzzis are quite comfortable.

  15. 15 Pat h Oct 6th, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    And underpowered poorly mapped fuelinjected can’t tune it out especially happens at low speed turns when you need good throttle control the most other than that there nice looking machines only 8 or 9 other manufacturers to look at first if you wanna be different the guzzi is the right rig for you if you want a reliable motorcycle look elsewhere,

  16. 16 Xenu Oct 7th, 2017 at 9:19 am

    You forgot to add uncomfortable.

  17. 17 Pat h Oct 7th, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    No they look good and are pretty comfortable just not ready for prime time

  18. 18 Matt W. Oct 9th, 2017 at 8:17 am

    The few Millennials I see on Harleys are usually on old Sporties. And who can blame them at half the price of a new one with just as much “cool factor”. If not more.

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