Harley-Davidson Hires Droga5 to Help Redefine Its Iconic Brand

IPG also competed in creative review

Harley-Davidson logo in metal on leather background
The company consolidated its account with IPG in 2016. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

America’s most historic motorcycle manufacturer has named a new agency to help expand its appeal to more riders around the world.

Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Harley-Davidson, which celebrated its 115th anniversary last year, chose Droga5 as its new creative partner after a competitive review that ended last week, according to several parties close to the business. Accenture oversaw the pitch process.

“We are excited to be part of the Harley-Davidson team that will help build the next generation of riders around the world,” said a Droga5 spokesperson. “We look forward to sharing our fresh perspective and new ideas to help expand the brand into new spaces and access new customers.”

Harley-Davidson representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the news, and Droga5 declined to elaborate. Adweek’s AgencySpy previously reported that the pitch pitted that agency against Deutsch and R/GA.

The client consolidated its global creative, media and digital marketing work with Interpublic Group after a holding company-level review that ended in summer 2016. IPG proceeded to launch Team Ignite, a dedicated multi-agency division based in Detroit with regional offices in New York, London and Singapore. Campbell Ewald, also in Detroit, served as creative lead.

The precise scope of Droga5’s remit, and its effects on Harley-Davidson’s relationship with IPG, are unclear at this time. Multiple parties with knowledge of the matter said the process was initially positioned as a project-based pitch involving only non-roster shops, but at least one source whose agency competed said they went into the final rounds with the understanding that the winner could be creative AOR for Harley-Davidson moving forward.

IPG declined to comment. Spokespeople for Deutsch, R/GA and Campbell Ewald had not responded to related emails at press time.

Harley-Davidson’s sales have declined in recent years despite its iconic status. Last month, Bloomberg reported that the company “barely broke even” in the fourth quarter of 2018 thanks, in large part, to tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump. The accuracy of his claims regarding Indian tariffs that apply to the company later came into doubt as the U.S. imports very few motorcycles from that country.

Like many other marketers, Harley-Davidson has recently pivoted toward more digital and influencer-based efforts in an attempt to broaden its appeal. Adweek specifically reported that it set a goal of 2 million U.S. riders by 2027.

In order to reach that target, the brand has expanded into “smart mobility” and electric vehicles, some of which it showcased at CES last month. Recent campaigns have also targeted consumers outside its traditional demographic—specifically younger and more racially diverse audiences—while the brand simultaneously focuses on overseas markets like China and India, where sales growth is more robust. On that note, one party close to the review indicated that some of the work produced from this new partnership could eventually run overseas as well.

The first campaigns from Droga5 should debut later this year.

While Harley-Davidson is an extremely well-known brand, its marketing budget remains somewhat modest. Kantar Media has the company spending approximately $8 million in the U.S. in 2017, and consultancy R3 estimated its global spend at $30 million.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.