Return of a Native: The Rebirth of an American Icon
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Holmes Report

Return of a Native: The Rebirth of an American Icon

From 1901-1953, Indian Motorcycle, known as the “Pride of the American Road”, and an American icon, was the oldest U.S. manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles.

Paul Holmes

From 1901-1953, Indian Motorcycle, known as the “Pride of the American Road”, and an American icon, was the oldest U.S. manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles. Even after a 50-year hiatus when no bikes were built and the company ceased to exist, Indian still maintained strong brand recognition among motorcycle aficionados worldwide because of its heritage of innovation, landmark styling and design.
In 2001, Audax Private Equity infused $45 million of funding to help re-launch the Indian brand and regain its prominence. In fact, 2001 also marked the company’s 100th Anniversary.
This significant investment prompted the company to launch an aggressive branding/public relations campaign to re-launch the company to the media, general public, and motorcycle aficionados. The company has relied exclusively on public relations efforts, and re-branding strategy, rather than costly advertising tactics. Today, 18 months later, AFA is proud to attribute much of the company’s high visibility with its key audiences to the extensive media exposure in national/regional consumer and business publications including print, online and broadcast.
Probably the biggest challenge for AFA was to convince true motorcycle aficionados and naysayers that the new Indian bikes were up to snuff and not simply beautiful collector pieces or “Harley clones.” In addition, it was important to instill confidence in the new management team.
The PR team targeted publications which would give visibility to Indian Motorcycle CEO Frank O’Connell which resulted in a cover story for Industry Week and profiles in California CEO and various CNNfn broadcast shows like CNN’s, “Maverick of the Morning”, “Moneyline with Lou Dobbs” and “Business Unusual”. For AFA, the challenge remained to put the company on the radar screen, rather than trying to compete for market share with the Harley-Davidsons, et al, in the competitive landscape.
Fortunately, Americans love a great comeback story and Indian has a rich heritage with a bright future. This presented an opportunity in terms of garnering interest from the media and consumers. There is a very high awareness of the Indian brand within the community of motorcycle enthusiasts and it was important to lean on this heritage. Indian believes that what you stand for today should be what you always stood for – quality, reliability and motorcycles with a distinctive Indian flavor. The bikes have a real cult following and count many celebrities and athletes among the proud owners, including George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks.
Since the company had remained a historical footnote for half a century, the PR team was able to start fresh and build on their solid reputation and brand name. The plan was to introduce the comeback story of an American icon that was striking a balance between harkening back to the legacy while embracing the new and stylish. Some of the classic design features of the original Indian Chief model – skirted fenders, spoke wheels, teardrop headlight and the Indian war bonnet emblem—are carried over to the new 2003 model.
Indian became an OEM in 2002 when it introduced its proprietary “Indian DNA” custom-built Powerplus engine in the Indian Chief bikes, and in doing so, the company gained tremendous credibility with the general public, and especially motorcycle enthusiasts.
Overall, the objective is to continue the momentum of an aggressive public relations campaign that will promote the brand, and the product, at every opportunity in an effort to increase visibility and ultimately increase sales. In sum, the message we want to convey to the biking community is that the Indian retains its timeless style, originality and romantic image while humming along on today’s mechanical technology.
The strategy was, and continues to be, to generate targeted interest with men’s/near enthusiast magazines, general interest, and business/financial publications and broadcast outlets. We were able to secure feature stories in men’s magazines such as Men’s Journal, GQ, Maxim, Cigar Aficionado, Worth, etc and also appeal to a broader audience of investors with feature articles in business /financial publications and television outlets such as Red Herring, Forbes,, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NYT, and various CNN television appearances.
The PR team created multiple story angles to pitch to various publications so that the Indian story would reach the broadest national audience to increase its share of voice and to reach cyclists, dealers, investors and the general public.
AFA promoted the comeback story and the funding from Audax Private Equity to national business/financial media which included print, broadcast, online and wire services. The team targeted the San Francisco/San-Jose-based business media to boost Indian’s profile in its local market which resulted in feature business and lifestyle stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Examiner, Silicon Valley Business Ink, and Silicon Valley Business Journal ranked Indian Motorcycle #1 “Top 100 Fastest-Growing Private Companies.”
Also, in an effort to educate and attract potential dealers to join the 250-dealer strong Indian Motorcycle network, the PR Team pitched the business pages of major metropolitan daily newspapers which resulted in several stories including the Boston Globe, New York Post, and Newsday.
Indian Motorcycle is still privately-held, but due to the high level of interest generated in part, from intense media exposure, the company’s sales and units sold have increased dramatically. The major effect of the intense PR campaign was to put Indian Motorcycle back on the biking radar screen. Today, bikers throughout the country know that Indian is a working, successful company producing quality bikes.
In 2000, there were 2,042 bike retails; in 200, 3,656 bike retails; and in 2002, 3,800 bike retails.
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