Harley-Davidson splits with longtime lead ad agency

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Harley-Davidson and its longtime lead ad agency, Carmichael Lynch, have parted ways after 31 years.

Advertising Age says it was the Minneapolis-based ad agency that walked away.

The agency, part of the Interpublic Group of Cos., climbed aboard Harley in 1979, just as the company was struggling to restore its reputation because of quality issues in that era’s machines. It notified H-D Friday that it would start e a 90-day termination period ending in late November.

A blogger at the Tribble Ad Agency says “An official at Harley-Davidson was rumored to have stated that Carmichael Lynch lacks the digital, social and search capabilities that are needed for a modern advertising campaign” that would be critical to reaching the younger demographic that Harley-Davidson covets.

Each company released its own announcement.

"We've had a good run with Carmichael Lynch over the past 31 years but as our brand has grown globally and with new, broader audiences and cultural opportunities, we've been working for some time with a more diverse group of agency partners," said Harley CMO Mark-Hans Richer. "Our strategies have been moving away from a singular consumer target and a one-size-fits-all agency solution. Rather than accept this new reality, CL chose a different path and we respect that."

The Motor Co. has no plans to seek a replacement agency, but will continue to work with the other agencies with which it already has relationships.

Carmichael Lynch president Doug Spong told the magazine H-D’s declining sales were one factor in the split.

"It didn't come down to any one thing, but if you look at the challenge right now of growing Harley's sales -- they've weathered a tough few years in terms of the recession,” he said. “We've supported them through good times and bad."

The agency was responsible for the “Screw it, Let’s Ride” campaign, which aimed to tap into the Motor Co’s rebel appeal in the face of the economic downturn.

Harley-Davidson spent $11 million in measured media in 2009, and less than $5 million for the first six months of this year, according to Kantar Media.

Posted by Holly Wagner