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Tweeters of the Pack

Harley-Davidson turns to its riders and Twitter in new social effort

Illustration: Jacob Thomas

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Twitter users @staci281, @Hacksaw and @RohammedAli are, respectively, an honors student, a chef and a third-grade teacher, but they have one thing in common: They all proudly ride Harley-Davidsons—and they want you to know it.

These motorheads are just a few of the real-life people behind “E Pluribus Unum”—Latin for “out of many, one”—a new campaign that the 109-year-old motorcycle brand hopes will turn into a social media phenom and build sales during a time when recession-spooked consumers may be inclined to put off buying that fantasy bike.

Social media marketing is nothing new, but Harley’s effort is distinct not only for being conceived, developed and executed entirely by the brand’s cultish fan base, but also by using that same base to challenge the stereotype of the Harley rider. Harley’s marketers plucked the idea for the campaign from a fan named Harold Chase, a member of the brand’s Facebook-based crowdsourcing platform Fan Machine, created by Denver-based ad shop Victors & Spoils, which also worked on the campaign. Chase thought that having actual Harley riders show off their own chrome would provide some instant cred. “Our fans know how to express our brand,” said Dino Bernacchi, Harley-Davidson’s director of marketing communications. “They live it every day.”

Harley’s hoping they’ll tweet it every day too. The campaign encourages fans to customize the Twitter hashtag #StereotypicalHarley and talk about who they are and why they ride. To get the conversation rolling, Harley produced a 90-second video starring 18 riders.

Scott Beck, gm of marketing operations, said that the campaign is meant to challenge assumptions about bikers by showcasing the Harley community’s surprising diversity. This, he said, should also help the brand get would-be Harley owners into the showrooms. Indeed, one fan tweeted: “#StereotypicalHarley Nation, I want to be among your ranks. I’m $3K away from the 72 I’ve been dreaming of.”

Crowdsourced marketing has backfired on some brands in the past, but John Hendricks, CEO of digital marketing consultancy BoomBox Inc., thinks that in this case, it makes sense. “They’re getting people to put a narrative of their lives atop the product.”

Harley’s 2011 sales increased 5.8 percent year over year, besting an anemic 1.8 percent for street bikes as a whole, and while recessionary effects persist, Bernacchi pointed out that many of Harley’s 3.3 million Facebook fans don’t yet own bikes. All it takes, he said, is a little push to awaken the hog within.