Billboards and Brand Dilution

While driving through Central Texas yesterday, I spotted this billboard perched above a Harley Davidson Dealership:


My initial reaction was: “What-tha? Harley Davidson is now about low prices and fuel economy?”

So I posted the billboard pic on Twitter and asked if the brand was starting to “wear thin?” Meaning is Harley Davidson, or at least this local dealer, diluting the brand to attract a larger customer base?

Corey O’Laughlin of OpenView Partners said:

Corey OLaoughlin Harley Billboard Twitter Comment

While Don Young of PEMCO Insurance thought it was just fine:

Don Young Harley Billboard Twitter Comment

Over on Facebook, reactions were similar. Gillian Morrison of Thought Out Media didn’t like it:

Gillian Morrison Harley Billboard Twitter Comment

While Russell Cox of Kelly Realtors, thought it was good billboard strategy:

Russell Cox Harley Billboard Twitter Comment

What’s Wrong With the Billboard?

I don’t like the billboard because it belongs to Harley Davidson, and Harley Davidson is not about MPG and low sticker prices. What’s the big deal you ask? Gas prices are on the rise and people like to spend less money. This would mean more business for Harley, wouldn’t it?

Diluting a brand is a strategy used to make a company more appealing to a broader base of customers. Companies do it so that they can sell more stuff. And initially, it usually works. But brand dilution ignores something very important: current customers.

Current Harley customers didn’t buy a Harley so they cold brag about their fuel economy, or how little they paid for their bike. Nope, they bought their Hog so that they could discard their tie, don a leather jacket, and escape their CPA office, law firm, or otherwise less glamorous profession. Harley Davidson owners are free to be someone else for the weekend. A freedom not available to everyone.

The Brand Dilution Effect

Eventually brand dilution waters down the brand and it doesn’t taste as good as it used to. Business starts to slip, trouble ensues. It happened to Starbucks a few years back, remember? Starbucks was a strong brand. People loved Starbucks…until they started opening up on every corner. There were even multiple Starbucks on the same block. Eventually Starbucks closed 977 stores and laid off 18,400 people to pay the price of brand dilution.

So if not price and gas economy, then what? Russell Cox asked me what I would put on the billboard instead. The primary purpose of all advertising is to advance the brand, not dilute it. Using my weak Photoshop skills, here is my revised Harley Davidson billboard.


What do you think? Is Harley Davidson practicing advertising genius or brand dilution?

Don’t miss out on free marketing advice. For updates on new articles: Receive The Marketing Spot by Email or subscribe in a blog reader.


Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software