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Harley-Davidson Advertising

The Mighty Harley-Davidson Tin Sign

Tin sign featuring Harley-Davidson ad campaign of 1942.

Harley-Davidson® Advertising Through the Years

One of the most striking characteristics of Harley-Davidson® advertising is the company’s adaptability to the times. Because of this, Harley-Davidson® advertising has always been reflective of the time in which it was created. In effect, Harley advertising serves as a type of timeline of the values and interests of the American people over the last 100+ years. And their marketing strategies have been very successful because of their awareness of the needs and attitudes of their customers.

The Harley-Davidson® motorcycle was invented as a motorized bicycle to get the rider to his destination more quickly. It soon developed into a less expensive alternative to owning a motorcar. Over the years, however, with clever marketing and an eager customer base, Harley-Davidson® motorcycles have become much more than just transportation. Harleys also got a reputation for being “fun”.

Harley-Davidson® Bar and Shield Tin SignThe Harley-Davidson® Bar and Shield logo was first used in 1910 and was trademarked the following year. This icon symbolizes all that the Harley-Davidson® stands for: adventure, freedom, individuality, exhilaration, speed and style. It is one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world today.

As with advertising, Harley-Davidson introduced many different slogans over the years. Sometimes, these phrases were in response to current events or movements.

Here are some of the slogans from 1910 to the 1980s:

1910: Always a trusty friend.

1910: The motorcycle that is not uncomfortable.

1915: Ride a Winner. (Emphasizing Harley racing victories.)

1916: Get the most out of life. Get a sidecar this year. (Harley added sidecars to their bikes for those who wanted to travel with a companion)

1920: Gee Dad! Buy me a Harley-Davidson® ! (High-quality bicycles were made to attract boys and girls, but they never caught on like the motorcycles.)

1920: Popular over the whole wide world! (Campaign included ads showing people around the world on Harleys, including a tribal African chief.)

Harley-Davidson Globe Metal Sign

Harley-Davidson Globe Metal Sign

1924: Motorcycling—Outdoors’ Greatest Sport on Wheels

1925: Get a kick out of life. (Also the start of promoting dealers as the vital link between the Harley-Davidson® factory and the customer.)

1931: Motorcycling: The Greatest Sport of Them All

1935-1937: Scenic America (Promoting Harleys as an in expensive mode of transportation during the Great Depression.)

1942: Front Line Hero! (Harley-Davidsons are used in WWII by the Allied military forces)

1947: The Might Harley-Davidson® . . . World’s Most Popular Motorcycle!

1987: I am Woman. Hear me Roar. (Response to the Women’s Movement. Ads state, “A woman’s place, as we all know, is wherever she wants to be.” Women have always ridden Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but in the ’80s the company targeted a larger group of women by recruiting them to join the Harley Owners Group bike club.)

Harley Live to Ride Eagle Sign

Reproduction “Live to Ride, Ride to Live” tin sign.

In later years, Harley-Davidson introduced many slogans which have remained in use for years. Many of these phrases also appear on a wide range of Harley merchandise and apparel, and are more recognizable to the general public than their vintage years counterparts. They include:

  • Live to ride, ride to live.
  • Turn on your own thunder.
  • The road starts here. It never ends.
  • The legend rolls on.
  • It’s time to ride.
  • Until you’ve been on a Harley-Davidson® , you haven’t been on a motorcycle.
  • It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
  • American by choice. Rebel by birth.
  • So screw it, let’s ride. (2008)

From “Always a trusty friend” to “Screw it, let’s ride”, you can see the move away from the innocence of 1910 to the more blunt (and controversial) slogans in much later years. Throughout the years, however, these enduring themes were the promise of action, fun and freedom to Harley riders.

> Many of Harley’s vintage ads have been reproduced on licensed tin signs.

For the most part, advertising was targeted at a particular group of people that “got” the Harley-Davidson® message: those that understand the Harley mystique and the promise of freedom and individuality. This is because riders have an emotional attachment to their Harley.

Are you a Harley enthusiast or collector? We’d love to hear your story!

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Last updated: August 22, 2012
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About Ann

Ann is a web assistant and project manager with Retro Planet. After prior stints in the advertising and publishing worlds, she has found her place with the company. She is a serious anglophile and history buff, with a passion for anything from the past, especially retro inspired decor.