What do superheroes ride? Unless they're from a Japanese Manga comic, it would probably be an American motorcycle brand. Harley-Davidson, to be specific. The Milwaukee-based, all-American bike maker has signed a pact with the iconic American comic book and production company Marvel -- sealed no doubt with the imprint from the hammer of Thor. Harley-Davidson's new Softail Slim motorcycle will have a starring role in the forthcoming Marvel Studios/Paramount film "The Avengers," scheduled to premiere on May 4.
And Harley-Davidson and Marvel are partnering in a cross-promotional activation called "Assemble Your Freedom." That program, as much about Harley-Davidson's H-D1 Bike Builder customizing platform as it is about the manufacturer's motorcycles, lets people virtually assemble their dream bike (albeit with armament not quite available through H-D1) while dreaming up a superhero version of themselves to ride it. Harley-Davidson and Marvel will choose five winners who offer up the best superhero to get real versions of their dream bikes (without the ordinance) and whose likenesses will be written and drawn into real Marvel comic storylines.
For Dino Bernacchi, the Harley-Davidson marketing communication director who helped develop the Chevrolet/Transformers partnership, the Avengers program is about reaching a relevant audience that indexes strongly for the brand already. "There's already so much passion and intensity around this product,” he says. “As a marketer, my job here is not to screw it up."
The company launched a number of new products in the past year, many directed at younger people and diverse demographics in the U.S. Harley-Davidson has said the focus has paid off, making it the leading motorcycle brand among young adult women, African-Americans and Hispanics, and Gen Y men.
A few recent innovations include the establishment of the 103 cubic-inch V-twin as a standard for H-D cruisers; introduction of a new version of the Sportster 1200 that can be ordered factory customized with H-D1 components; and the new Dyna Switchback motorcycle that lets owners convert back and forth between a custom touring bike and custom cruiser.
Bernacchi tells Marketing Daily that programs like “The Avengers” are about reaching people who are interested, but thinking of swinging a leg over a Harley-Davidson motorcycle maybe later on. "We want to get people interested in Harley-Davidson products and lifestyle in a way that makes them think twice, in places they're living in already; Marvel is one of the largest male publications out there, with the average fan literally being 18 to 34 years of age, so it really hits a sweet spot for us."
Marvel fans are also 40% more likely to consider a Harley-Davidson than any other motorcycle brand and almost 25% more likely to be into motorcycles in general than fans of any other general publication, per Bernacchi. "We are focused on scale and on [relationships with] brands whose characters resonate with ours."
The next big push for “The Avengers” will be around March 9, with Web content that will include part of the comic book -- ending with a cliffhanger -– that the winning H-D1 designers will become part of, per Bernacchi.
Similarly, the company is partnering with Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has new media deals that put the franchise on Fox, FX and Fuel. Harley-Davidson developed a campaign with UFC called "UFC Harley-Davidson Hometown Throwdown" in which people register at the microsite for a chance to bring a UFC fight and UFC kingpin Dana White to their hometown. They also get to arrive at the event on their own Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Bernacchi says the UFC tie-in enables the brand to "get to a large audience that is unbelievably targeted on their terms." Last year the company did a targeted promotion with Maxim, and this year it will do a similar one with Playboy.
The motorcycle maker also partnered with actor/producer Tyler Perry around "Good Deeds," which he wrote, directed and stars in. "It's hard to think of another more influential person, and he's a real Harley guy," says Bernacchi, who adds that Perry rides his personal Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the movie.
The company is also focusing on reaching out to Hispanic consumers; last year H-D premiered a made-for-TV documentary on Telemundo’s mun2 called “Harlistas: An American Journey,” about Latino motorcycle culture.