Harley-Davidson—An Iron Horse for Rugged Individualists, Including American Women

Brand managers at Harley-Davidson Motor Co. ran a magazine ad several years ago that captured the essence of this company’s famous motorcycles. The ad depicted a driverless Harley-Davidson motorcycle on an open road in the American West in a fashion reminiscent of a wild mustang in a similar scène. The ad’s headline declared, “Even Cows Kick Down the Fence Once in a While,” and was supported with copy stating:

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It’s right there in front of you, Road, wind, country. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle. In other words, freedom. A chance to live on your own terms for a while … Anyone who’s been there knows: Life is better on the outside.

This advertising message was subtle but clear: if you cherish freedom, independence, and perhaps a sense of being a kindred spirit with others of like mind, then Harley-Davidson is the motorcycle for you. The cowboy spirit was encapsulated in this positioning, which tacitly equated Harley motorcycles with horses. (Harley-Davidson equals “iron horse.”) Potential purchasers of Harley motorcycles probably as youngsters envisioned themselves riding horses in America’s Old West.
What makes Harley-Davidson motorcycles such a unique and strong brand, indeed a brand of virtual iconic status? Informed observers and students of brand marketing would suggest that Harley, more so than most brands, has a deep emotional connection with present and prospective owners. As captured in the previous description of a Harley advertisement, the brand has been marketed as and has virtually become synonymous with American culture and values of personal freedom, rebelliousness, and rugged individualism. Harley also has created a sense of brand community among owners of its brand, who share strong comradeship. In fact, when Harley celebrated its 100th anniversary, over 250,000 riders from around the world came to Milwaukee to participate in the big party. Needless to say, few brands anywhere in the world have such loyal and devoted followers.
An especially interesting aspect of Harley’s consumer community is that it has become increasingly female—American women are a fastgrowing segment of the motorcycle business, with annual purchases exceeding 100,000 cycles! Nearly one in eight sales of Harley motorcycles is to women, which is attributable in large part to Harley’s concerted effort to appeal to the female segment. For example, its dealers hold “garage parties,” organized gatherings at which dealer representatives inform women about Harley-Davidson motorcycles, appeal to their dreams of owning a motorcycle, and attempt to reduce their fears.


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