• 03.17.16

Forget Someday—Harley-Davidson Wants You To Become A Biker Right Now

Vice president of global marketing Shelley Paxton talks about the brand’s boosted marketing budget and new carpe diem strategy.

Forget Someday—Harley-Davidson Wants You To Become A Biker Right Now

What’s the image that pops into your head when you think of Harley-Davidson? Is it this? Or maybe this? Or perhaps even this. It’s one of the most iconic American brands, but its biggest marketing challenge remains rather ordinary: Stay relevant. A new campaign is aimed straight at that dilemma, with an explicit call to anyone who ever thought about stepping on a motorbike.


“Live Your Legend” kicks off during the NCAA March Madness hoops tournament with a spot that is basically the carpe diem scene from Dead Poet’s Society for middle-aged dudes. It says if you’ve ever dreamed of riding a motorbike, quit dreaming and start riding. Oh, and it may the first time anyone’s ever suggested riding a Harley makes you a better parent.

Vice president of global marketing Shelley Paxton says 2016 is a big year for the brand, reflected in a 65% increase in marketing spending over last year. “With that growth, we’re really driving it toward two things,” says Paxton. “One is increasing product demand through brand relevance and awareness. Second is to grow ridership in the U.S. As a market leader, we see it as our responsibility and opportunity to bring more people into the sport. We believe we can break through the 2% to 3% of the U.S. population that enjoys motorcycles, to appeal to an even broader audience. That’s what this new campaign and call to action is all about.”

Paxton admits that 2015 was a tough one for the brand—one in which its stock hit a two-year low. But by the fourth quarter, there encouraging signs, including the response to a program launched in May that offered free lessons to military vets. The program was extended to first responders early this year.

“We’ve seen an overwhelming response to those programs, and this new campaign speaks to continuing that goal of growing the customer base and creating demand for our new products, with a nice emotional backdrop,” says Paxton.

The campaign will also include a significant social activation. The brand will be using #LiveYourLegend to leverage its significant social following to encourage people to tell their own Harley stories.

“This is really intended to transcend audiences. We see it as multigenerational and multicultural, to spark a movement around that carpe diem idea,” says Paxton. “We have a long history of riders identifying our brand and motorcycles with freedom, that we want to introduce that to a broader spectrum of customers.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.