Fortune Favors The Brave: Harley-Davidson’s Leap of Faith

Fortune Favors The Brave: Harley-Davidson’s Leap of Faith

The motorcycle company's chief marketing officer enlists the power of the community to create the brand's advertising.

Kyana Gordon
  • 19 november 2010

Watch out Madison Avenue, there’s a new game-changer in town. Part of the Harley-Davidson account was won by an unprompted creative brief.

Mark-Hans Richer, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Harley-Davidson, reveals to Forbes his decision to approach the brand’s advertising with crowdsourcing. The shift was prompted when John Winsor, head of Victors & Spoils, a crowdsourcing agency based in Boulder, Colorado wrote the bold blog post: “Hey, Mark-Hans, We’re Working on Harley-Davidson.” An excerpt from Winsor’s post further explains how his agency would win the business:

We love the Harley-Davidson brand (just like most everyone). And we’ve talked to a bunch of our creatives and strategists (I dare say some of the best in the world) in our 1,800-strong creative department, and H-D was also at the top of the list of the brands they most loved. So, instead of going through the typical steps of credential decks and pitches, we thought we’d try something different. We’re getting to work. Just yesterday, the Victors & Spoils team did some quick strategic research pulled from public sources and went ahead and wrote a very open brief. Today, we launched it on our simple work-creation platform called The Squirrel Fight. And right now, creatives and strategists from all over the world are working against your brief.

Boy, did Winsor deliver. Victors & Spoils received 600 ideas from 200 people after the brief was posted. Next, Winsor presented about 65 of those ideas to Richer in October and also developed a follow-up brief at the request of the brand. Richer was astounded by the quality of the ideas that spanned advertising concepts, social media activations, and product innovations. The agency won the account. Winsor proclaimed he will no longer pitch business, replacing Keynote and PowerPoint with “our crowd wants to work on this.”


With the economic downtown, Harley-Davidson saw sales decrease by  7.7 percent worldwide in the third quarter compared with the same period last year and the company is hoping cost saving measures will help the brand’s profits change direction. Richer spoke with Forbes about the deciding factors that drove the brand to implement a crowdsourcing approach towards its advertising. The key points are summarized below:

  • Crowdsourcing is a compelling tool to creatively propel Harley-Davidson forward. The ideas generated from a community challenged standard advertising procedure and the process helped the brand stay true to what it represented by enlisting a larger group of people in the co-creation of the brand
  • Harley-Davidson is not afraid of controversy and chose a new method to do justice to the brand and its customers
  • The lesson for advertising: fortune favors the brave.
  • The rotten economy forced Harley-Davidson to go back to its roots and look at its mission (fulfill dreams), strengths and target audience, and in turn helped push the limits of creativity
  • Implement a refocused multi-generational and multicultural customer strategy merging age, gender, regions, and nations simultaneously
  • Harley-Davidson sold more motorcycles to young adults than any other competitor in the United States in 2010, exemplifying how great brands succeed by gaining market share in an economic recession and become stronger as a result
  • Every brand has a community, it’s all how you interact, engage, and enable it. All marketing efforts are geared towards the social network, in Harley-Davidson’s case, their riders.

An important lesson that can ultimately be learned by any brand, marketer, and strategist is expressed by Richer in a poignant statement:

The folks on the road, having fun going places hanging out, and having a good time. Sometimes that is enabled by a social network that might be online but ultimately a social network is how a group of people come together around your brand. That can be any kind of brand.

Victors & Spoils

Forbes: “Harley-Davidson CMO: Crowdsourcing Ads To Engage A New Audience”

+Harley Davidson
+John Winsor
+Market Research
+Victors & Spoils
+Work & Business

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