How Harley-Davidson Took on the Town

How Harley-Davidson Took on the Town

Recently, we saw a great example of experiential marketing from Harley-Davidson. In an effort to show millennials, who aren't as excited about riding bikes as other generations, that riding isn’t so complicated, Harley-Davidson tried a new way of reaching people. It created a hands-on experience by taking over the small city of Ryder, North Dakota for a day.

While Ryder is classified as a city, it’s more like a small town with only 85 residents. The small population made it a great place to reach a wide proportion of residents. In exchange for the city agreeing to let Harley-Davidson take it over for the day, the company helped out Ryder by painting the water tower, which the city wasn’t able to afford on its own.

The idea of the event was to teach that riding is easy and to promote bike safety. The bike company offered motorcycle lessons toward a bike license, successfully getting about 50 people to sign up, which was approximately everyone who was eligible. The event included an exciting party with a dance, bikers and other festivities.

A major success of the event was that it changed residents’ minds about motorcycles. Ryder’s mayor, Jody Reinisch, told Dale Buss for a Forbes article that residents were wary of motorcycles, associating them with dangerous biker gangs. But she said that when Harley-Davidson visited for preparations for the event, which included photographing and creating videos, the entire city changed its mind and supported the event.

The promotional effects of this event go far beyond Ryder for Harley-Davidson. People are sharing their pictures on social media of themselves standing in front of the Harley-Davidson-themed water tower. The company is also staging a larger social media campaign, sharing the event and the progress of Ryder’s residents during their motorcycle lessons. This long-term campaign started with this takeover event on June 3, 2017 and will continue until Labor Day.

Planning an event for your company to take over an area is an experiential marketing concept to consider. Other companies have also tried this approach, including Coca-Cola in spots around Singapore and Anheuser-Busch in Crested Butte, Colorado. But Erik Sherman argued in Inc. that this kind of event has to be handled correctly. He gave Anheuser-Busch as a negative example where residents were mad that the plan to rename the town was done behind closed doors and a fair portion of the social media engagement was negative. Sherman explained that the event was not a pro-social one. People tend to prefer positive messages that promote causes, such as community and environmentalism.

Harley-Davidson’s event followed the right course by doing something positive for Ryder (painting the water tower and bringing exposure) while involving citizens in the process and promoting positive ideas such as exploring the world instead of sitting on the couch, coming together as families and communities, and learning to ride in a safe way. If you plan to take a cue from these companies and stage a takeover event, make sure you have a positive message to promote and that you benefit the local community rather than putting a hardship on it.