How Harley-Davidson Used Science for Better Marketing

Published on June 29, 2021

Motorcycle enthusiasts have claimed that riding is beneficial for your health for years. Data from a recent study conducted by the University of California now validates these claims.

This study was run by Dr. Don Vaughn, an academic neuroscientist, along with his team of researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior with the goal of discovering exactly how riding motorcycles affects the brain and body. It consisted of monitoring riders’ brain activity and hormone levels during three different scenarios—on a motorcycle, in a car, and in different sitting positions.

Vaughn discovered that when subjects were riding a motorcycle, their sensory processing and visual attention significantly enhanced. That finding, along with increased epinephrine levels and a decreased cortisol to DHEA-S ratio, suggested riders had increased focus. Because their brain was in a heightened state, they were also better at passive sensory monitoring.

The data showed

  • Riders experienced a calming effect immediately upon starting the ride.
  • Their cortisol levels dropped during travel.
  • When compared to driving a car, they found motorcycle riders were more focused on the road.
  • Riders could focus better for at least ten minutes after riding a motorcycle.

Based on this data, researchers can definitively conclude that riding a motorcycle positively impacts both the mental and physical health of a rider.

A game-changing marketing strategy

Harley-Davidson changed the game with this research. Particularly since they conducted it through an authoritative, trustworthy source.

They wanted to prove what customers had been saying for years. In the end, they achieved exactly that, giving the company a powerful new tool to use in its marketing efforts. Third-party validation is always important in marketing, but it’s critical when a brand is going to make a specific claim. This enables the brand to effectively solve both the logical and emotional objections in their prospective customers’ minds.

The potential impact of this data is immeasurable. Not only can Harley-Davidson appeal to customers’ nostalgia, brand loyalty, and sense of adventure, but they now can also claim health benefits! But there’s a hidden benefit to this strategy as well. If other motorcycle brands talk about the mood-enhancing effect of riding a motorcycle, it will inevitably lead to Vaughn’s study. This will create more exposure for Harley-Davidson.

This essentially forces other motorcycle manufacturers into one of two choices. Either not using this claim for risk driving more business to Harley-Davidson, or conducting and publicizing their own duplicate study. It’s a brilliant example of properly leveraging science and data from an independent third party to create a powerful marketing advantage. And it will serve the brand for years to come.

In my opinion, this was a brilliant marketing strategy on all counts.


Jeremy Knauff is a contributor at Grit Daily and several other publications, a Marine Corps veteran, and the founder of Spartan Media, a digital marketing agency.

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