Harley ad campaign heaps biker scorn on doomsayers

CHICAGO Fri May 2, 2008 10:12pm EDT

1 of 2. A man riding a custom Harley Davidson chopper makes his way through a crowd in Brooklyn, New York September 19, 2004.

Credit: Reuters/Henny Ray Abrams

CHICAGO (Reuters) - "Screw it. Let's Ride." That's the advice that Harley-Davidson Inc, the motorcycle maker whose sales have been dragged down by the U.S. economic slowdown, has for customers fearful of falling home values, rising gas prices and a stagnant job market.

In a rare national newspaper and magazine advertising campaign called "We Don't Do Fear," the company invokes its long history to make pessimism -- and watching the news -- seem downright unpatriotic.

"Over the last 105 years in the saddle, we've seen wars, conflicts, depression, recession, resistance and revolution," reads the ad, which shows a helmeted rider on a Harley chopper silhouetted against what appears to be the red and white stripes of a slightly tattered American flag.

"We've watched a thousand hand-wringing pundits disappear in our rear-view mirror. But every time this country has come out stronger than before .... If 105 years have proved one thing, it's that fear sucks and it doesn't last long. So screw it, let's ride."

The ad encourages readers to visit www.harley-davidson.com/screwit and leave comments.

Harley has also shipped thousands of bandannas bearing the "Screw it, Let's Ride" motto to its dealers to give away for free.

Mark-Hans Richer, the former Pontiac marketing director who runs Harley's branding efforts, said the ad, which ran in Thursday's USA Today, will also run in Sports Illustrated. The bike maker normally prefers much more targeted campaigns than to advertise in such broad consumer publications.

"I wouldn't call this a typical media buy for us," Richer said. "But we felt this was one of those things that lent itself to a national newspaper ... or national publications ... where some of these attitudes might be shared."

Last month, Harley slashed production, laid off hundreds of workers and warned it would report full-year earnings well below its forecast as the U.S. economic slowdown crimps demand for its iconic motorcycles.

News of the layoffs and production cuts came as Harley reported a first-quarter net profit of $187.6 million, down from $192.3 million last year.

"We do have a unique perspective because of our history," Richer said. "We have seen things come and go. Our riders have too. I think fundamentally, when they talk among themselves or talk to us, they have a more positive outlook on life. They don't put much value on doom and gloom and we thought it was time somebody said it."

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher)

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