David Blecken
Jul 28, 2016

Harley-Davidson wants to set young Japanese salarymen free

The US motorcycle brand is hoping to win over more youthful biking enthusiasts with a new experiential initiative.

Harley-Davidson wants to set young Japanese salarymen free

Developed by AKQA, ‘Go Live, Go Ride: Harley-Davidson Weekend Ride’ is an online-based campaign that gives people the chance to ride one of the company’s bikes for a full weekend.

Claudia Cristovao, AKQA’s group creative director in Tokyo, said the idea was to go beyond the standard test ride to give people a fuller experience of the brand.

How does it work? Those wishing to take part must hold a licence allowing them to ride large bikes. They are invited to enter an online lottery via a dedicated website stating where they want to ride to and when (up to seven people will be selected each weekend over the campaign’s three-month period); selected participants receive a gift pack containing a branded leather jacket and GoPro; they then choose their bike (one of seven), and Harley-Davidson helps them plan their weekend journey.

Footage from each journey filmed using the GoPro is subsequently edited and uploaded to the campaign website, serving as a record and a promotion in itself. Awareness of the competition is driven through social channels and publications aimed at biking enthusiasts. The brand is also releasing a series of stamps specially designed for the popular Line platform. In its first week, the campaign drew 600 applicants, Cristovao said.

Dan Inamoto, AKQA’s business director, described it as a “non-test ride” that aimed to rejuvenate the Harley-Davidson brand and draw in a new generation of riders. Harley-Davidson “has been in Japan for a long time but tends to be seen as an older man’s hobby brand,” Inamoto said. “The core owners are people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. The brand is trying to refresh itself and appeal to a younger audience.”

He noted that while Harley-Davidson remained the dominant brand in the large bike category, competition was intensifying, with brands such as Kawasaki and Honda “catching up and making bigger bikes”.

The campaign aims to overcome two key challenges. The first is that the average Japanese ‘salaryman’—even a young one—finds it difficult to realise his "dreams of freedom” given the pressures of work and society, Inamoto said. The other is that entering the world of biking can seem daunting to the uninitiated. In both cases, many would-be bikers don’t know where to begin.

“We wanted to make it easier,” Cristovao said, explaining that brands such as Harley-Davidson “have to go to you on your own terms, not wait for you to go to them”.

“It takes effort to be your true self,” Inamoto said. “We want people to buy the bikes, but we also want to open their eyes and realise there is a lifestyle out there that can allow you to be really free.”  

The campaign is the first major piece of work by AKQA for Harley-Davidson since the brand appointed the agency after a pitch last year. 

Campaign Asia-Pacific’s view: This initiative recognises that nothing can make up for experience when it comes to a machine like a Harley-Davidson. We would urge more automotive brands to let people really feel their products, rather than simply telling them about them. The question is, is the millennial generation bold enough for the Harley brand?

Campaign Japan

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