The Failure Awards Harley Davidson Marketing

The Failure Awards for defunct branding | #5 Legendary Harley-Davidson eau de toilette


By Andrew Eborn, president

September 12, 2017 | 6 min read

In this weekly series, Andrew Eborn shines a light on the products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that failed to take off and have as a result earned entry into the Octopus TV Failure Awards and a place in The Museum of Failure. Last time we looked at Juicero. Today, it's the turn of an iconic brand no doubt made dizzy by the sweet smell of success and hoping to bottle that scent – Legendary Harley-Davidson eau de toilette.

harley davidson

Harley-Davidson eau de toilette

Like many brands, Harley-Davidson offers a range of products with a smaller price tag than its bikes. This helps drive footfall to the dealerships as well as provide additional revenue streams and keeps the aspiration of a Harley ownership alive.

Want to get married overlooking a show room full of America’s favourite motor cycles?

Everything is possible!

In fact I walked one of my sisters, Rebecca “Little Smig”, down the aisle and gave

her away – what a bargain! – to Adrian at the Harley-Davidson Café in Las Vegas. Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas….

The not so sweet smell of success

Brand loyalty is the holy grail for businesses. Testing that loyalty can, however, be dangerous…

In 1994 Legendary Harley-Davidson eau de toilette was launched under licence, but this was a brand extension too far. Many customers who loved Harley-Davidson hated the Disneyfication of the brand.

Joe Hice, former director of corporate communications for Harley-Davidson, acknowledged the failure: "Over the years we've tried a number of different approaches to merchandising and have put the Harley-Davidson brand on some things that in retrospect we may not have been well-advised to do. The

company is much more selective today about how we go about extending

the brand.”

Why did it fail?

Brand extensions can be very successful, enabling new products to be introduced under a well-established existing brand name.

As I pointed out when looking at Colgate Lasagne, generally to benefit from the existing brand the new products need to be consistent with core brand values and customer perceptions and expectations. What values and expectations are conjured up when customers think of Colgate? Colgate is strongly associated with health and oral hygiene. The very name and logo instantly suggest that fresh, minty taste. Associating the brand with food was clearly not going to work. Who wants toothpaste flavoured pasta?

So what values and expectations are conjured up when customers think of Harley-Davidson?

As Charles ”Chuck” Brymer, former chief executive officer of the Interbrand Group and now president of DDB Worldwide points out: "Harley-Davidson values are strong, masculine, very rugged... for Harley-Davidson to go into a sector that doesn’t live up to what those values are would be disastrous."

..and “disastrous” it was!

A Harley-Davidson perfume for all those who want to smell like bikers,

hot and sweaty from getting their kicks on Route 66?!

Even a French voice over in the ad purring about ‘arley Davidson

failed to destroy the sensory association. Do you really want to smell like a Harley?

Lessons to be learned

I have had the pleasure of working with the strategic development of brands for several years including assisting with the generation of additional revenue streams.

Properly executed, brand extensions undoubtedly work. It is essential, however, that businesses understand the true nature of their brand. Line extensions inconsistent with brand values can be disastrous and also adversely affect other core products.

Don’t alienate your core customers. As with reputation and trust, loyalty and lovebands take years to build but can be destroyed in seconds.

Testing loyalty by seeking to squeeze every dime from fans through inappropriate licensed products may not only result in brand dilution but also loss of customers – the lifeblood of your brand.

Less is often so much more. Slapping your brand on as many products as possible is a mistake and merely serves to devalue your brand.

The very name Harley-Davidson conjures up strong feelings and associations. The idea of Harley-Davidson perfume, however, stinks. It’s the pits!

For that reason Legendary Harley-Davidson eau de toilette is this week’s nomination for The Octopus TV Failure Awards.

See you next week for more fantastically fabulous failures ….

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewEborn and @OctopusTV

From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.

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