Harley-Davidson, one of the world’s most iconic brands, was in the midst of a mini-crisis. Facing shrinking sales and a lack of connection with the youth demographic, Harley required the services of a not-so-typical agency as they geared up for some of their largest launches to date. When they called for the first time, their riders were literally dying, and the fire of the brand was dying along with them. They were panicked. So they enlisted our help to increase the relevance of the Harley-Davidson experience in the young adult market.
After a nationwide search and proposals submitted from some of the most well-known agencies in the world, Moon Landing was selected as the agency of record for Harley-Davidson because of our unique strategy and approach.
That’s when the fun started.
The first and most important priority was to gain a better understanding of the youth Harley so badly wanted to appeal to. Where did they hang out? What influencers were they following? What were their current thoughts about the Harley brand? The biggest challenge Harley and Moon Landing faced was devising a strategy and plan to infiltrate this youth demographic without being seen as fake or phony… this was a culture that you had to be invited in to.
Yes, a small, boutique PR firm was sitting at the table of a multi-billion dollar brand, and not talking about press releases. Instead we were talking about how to revitalize a brand positioning so it has stories to tell. We were engaging in a new rebellion that mattered to this younger generation.
To execute this research phase in an authentic way, Harley opened a clandestine skate shop in the Milwaukee area which Moon Landing helped staff. We did this to gain a raw and real understanding of the demographic we wanted to engage.
Months of research uncovered that young adults were experiencing a work/life imbalance … a “1⁄4 life crisis” of sorts. The struggle for transitional young adults was to find balance, while taking on all the new responsibilities of adulthood. They were lusting for an opportunity to “do whatever it is that sets them free.” However, this younger generation couldn’t be told what they want, they had to “discover” it on their own. We were engaging in a new rebellion that had to matter to this generation, so we started with grassroots events,
From this new understanding emerged a new line of bikes that Moon Landing would eventually brand and launch across the globe...the Dark Custom Line. These bikes had a rebellious design with a revolutionary price and were crafted for a new generation of Harley riders.
One of the key strategies for a successful launch of the Dark Custom line of bikes was to align the Dark Custom movement with similar freedoms of expression that mattered to our target demographic. This strategy came to life through the development of many different events, campaigns, and sponsorship activations.
Development & Execution
One example of how this strategy was brought to life was through the execution of the “Art of Rebellion Tour.” This tour concept connected the growing trend of “low-brow” art and the meaning of rebellion with the Harley brand. In New York City, a tour stop had lines wrapped around city blocks and were longer than the waitlist for these much-anticipated bikes. In L.A., renowned artists like Shepard Fairey packed an art gallery so full with celebrities and young riders we were forced to turn people away due to capacity issues.
Each event we executed was paired with a VIP media event on the day prior. We scoped out and hand-picked unique warehouses, staged epic photo opportunities, furnished the spaces with lounge furniture and met with media contacts one-on-one. This was all part of an effort to convince lifestyle editors that Harley was young again, and do so in a believable way.
Possibly the most successful tactic for our strong media relations results and something Moon Landing later became known for, were “creative mailers” or media kits we distributed for each bike release. Creative mailers proved to be an effective way to grab the attention of media, wake them up to the fact that a new movement was happening with one of the most iconic American brands, and get them excited about upcoming events or feature story opportunities.
Harley-Davidson and Moon Landing later teamed up with the Emerica skate team for the tour concept called “Wild Ride.” While it may seem odd to connect the skateboard culture with the Harley brand, the two actually shared the same DNA and passion for freedom and rebellion. This cross-country motorcycle ride put some of the top pro skaters in the world on Harley bikes and they rode from Milwaukee to Philadelphia, stopping at massive events at skate parks along the way. The ride culminated with a powerful entrance at Emerica’s annual “Wild in the Streets” event with bikes and famous pro boarders creating a procession into Philly. The event was so popular that it was replicated the following year in an even bigger way, with the ride going from L.A. to Chicago and making more stops along the way.
Moon Landing didn’t stop there. We went on to connect Harley Davidson with another iconic brand… Burton Snowboards. This was another direct result of our strategy to connect our brand with similar expressions of freedom in a grassroots/organic way. H-D and Burton teamed up to activate a sponsorship for the “Sturgis of Snowboarding”, the Abominable Snow Jam (ASJ). Similar to the Emerica “Wild Ride”, Harley provided members of Burton’s pro snowboard team with bikes to ride throughout the event. To gain media exposure, we leveraged the use of the bikes to demonstrate the parallels between the two groups of riders and extend the idea of cruising with your friends from bikes to boards.
In the end the message to young adults was that it was all about the freedom to ride … no matter what you ride.
The success of the Dark Custom line rested on a deep understanding of the youth movement and their desire to stand out in a crowd.
We focused our sponsorship activation strategy on engagement, rather than the more common practice of slapping banners all over an event (“banner tossing,”) and calling that a sponsorship. It was because of our extensive research and the resulting deep understanding of our target market that we knew this was the only way we could execute our sponsorships to have the desired impact and be accepted by young adults. Leveraging relationships with established skate and snowboard brands helped the Dark Custom curate the rebellious image the young riders were seeking in a bike.
In all, Moon Landing launched more than 10 Dark Custom bikes. With our aggressive media relations efforts, events, sponsorships, and unique opportunities like coordinating a prominent product placement in a Kanye West video, we garnered over 250 million impressions. We achieved 100% coverage in the media publications we targeted including pubs like Rolling Stone, Maxim, Outside, GQ, Men’s Journal, Esquire and many many more.