Harley Goes Hollywood
Owning a Harley-Davidson is a lifestyle choice. So closing a sale requires convincing customers that their lives can and should be different.
The manufacturer paired up with Lowe and Partners, Australia, to let potential buyers “Wake Up With a Harley,” giving them a full day with a bike. It may be the longest test drive in history. But that didn’t go far enough for Harley.
To reinforce the Harley mystique and publicize the 24-hour test drives, the online Open Road Film Festival was created to challenge filmmakers to expand a short film starring a Harley into a longer feature. Of course, the filmmakers needed a Harley to participate, so the company lent each of them one. Canon and Audio Network provided equipment for producers and directors; the Australian Film Industry helped promote the festival.
Entries into the festival ran the gamut of genres, including romantic comedies, thrillers, and even animated shorts. The eight top films were shown on Bondi Beach in Sydney in front of judges and the public. People could also watch the films online—and book their own 24-hour test drives on the same site.
The winning filmmaker won a Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and Canon EOS-1D C camera. The runner up and People’s Choice Prize winners also won Canon cameras. Voters were entered to win cash and cameras in exchange for participating.
Open Road attracted 59,000+ visits, and Harley-Davidson reported a 43% jump in sales during the campaign. Gauged a resounding success in the media, the brand plans to bring back the Open Road Film Festival next year.
Contagious vs. Childs, The Main Event
Contagious: The challenge for Harley is to move away from being synonymous with middle-aged men having a mid-life crisis and buying a bike to feel young again. This effort perfectly meets that challenge, by asking people to participate in communicating the exciting and adventurous spirit of the brand.
These user-generated films became branded content for Harley-Davidson, with anyone who chose to watch the films opting into lots of minutes of free Harley advertising. People were incentivised to vote with cash prizes and cameras for people who voiced their opinions on the film, ensuring that plenty of Australians would tune into the online fest.
The tie-in to Harley’s 24-hour demos is the icing on the cake for this campaign. It’s tough to watch the short films and not think that it’d be pretty cool to ride a Harley for a day. With ubiquitous opportunities to sign up for a test drive, the Open Road site makes it easy to turn that daydream into a reality. The increased sales figures from the campaign are testament to the fact that plenty of film watchers did just that.
Childs: Since we’re all about pushing magnetic ideas that connect with an audience beyond any single brand message, the Harley-Davidson “Welcome to Harleywood” campaign succeeds to the extent it creates a smarter, deeper and more engaged platform for the brand. By filming the final chapter of a story, then inviting people to create the beginning and middle, Harley allows filmmakers — experienced and would-be — to collaborate in a much larger tale. The company is compelling them to embrace the brand by somehow incorporating it into their real or fantasy lives; they not only experience a Harley, but also it becomes a part of their life story.
Like many brands, Harley needed to build beyond the older, middle-aged male demographic they already had captured to connect with a younger audience. That required welcoming people in a new and unexpected way. Rather than simply experience a one-off test drive, Harley invited riders to join a movement and engage in the larger brand story of an open-road, lifetime journey.
But is this a truly innovative and creative success? It’s a step.
Harley-Davidson took the core narrative of their brand and allowed others to play with it, trusting the films would enhance their reputation. Still — as all brands today should ask of their marketing — the company could have better questioned how the story would be shared.
Campaigns like Canon’s “Beyond the Still” with Vimeo (full disclosure, a project I worked on) helped introduce the idea of collaborative filmmaking through the new technology of affordable cameras and online distribution. But it also positioned the campaign on a larger stage at the Sundance Film Festival, where massively interested filmmakers, movie enthusiasts and the press had ample opportunity to share the experience with a larger audience.
For me, that’s the point. Today, a smart, creative idea that garners participation is table stakes. The real bet is made by asking how we can connect brand and reputation in a unique way so the project can spread.
Photo credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images