How to become a Harley-Davidson ‘logo’ – without really trying!

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David “Big Swole” Rose


by Bernal E. Smith II
For New Pittsburgh Courier

It took Jerry West a dynamic career and years of basketball brilliance before it happened to him.

It took Michael Jordan less time (in his rookie year) and the marketing brilliance of Nike (1985) to make him into one.

David “Big Swole” Rose? Well, he did it with mind-blowing speed, going from relative obscurity to brand logo in just a matter of months. Rose did so by revealing and embodying the unique and significant connection (as well as potential) between African-American motorcycle riders and the Harley Davidson brand.


Following a January discussion with John Comissiong, director of Market Outreach for the African American Segment of Harley-Davidson, and a number of subsequent meetings, magic began to happen. Rose not only convinced Comissiong that Harley-Davidson needed to step up its game in targeting a loyal and lucrative market, he become the face of the resulting effort.

Under the Iron Elite campaign, Harley-Davidson identifies, edifies and shares the history and stories of African-American riders and their custom bikes. The company, which markets itself as fulfilling dreams of personal freedom, even created a special patch, which brings us back to the “new logo” himself. Big Swole’s image and likeness, bike in tow, are clearly the inspiration for the image in the patch, which reads “African American Riders, Celebrating 110 Years.”

Submitting videos that piqued Comissiong’s interest, Rose brought attention to the unique bikes and activities of his Atlanta-based club. He also demonstrated the loyalty of African-American riders to the Harley-Davidson brand, and, more importantly, the unique way African Americans enjoy the product – dynamic and expensive customization done with a focus on creativity, functionality and swagger.

“I sent him videos showing our club here in Atlanta and the incredible customized bikes of our members and the way we roll,” said Rose. “It was unique to any of the stuff they were featuring up to that point. I got that call saying they were coming to Atlanta.”

Comissiong met with Rose and the rest is, well, history making.

“From that initial meeting to the visit in Atlanta, I’ve done three promotional videos with Harley-Davidson. They’ve used my image on the patch and on their website,” Rose said, explaining the explosive development of the Harley Davidson relationship. “They’ve literally made me into a logo and the campaign has taken off.

“The interesting thing is that it has expanded beyond just the African American segment to really reach the entire brotherhood of riders. It’s gotten to the point where people of all backgrounds that are bikers have embraced the patch and the entire notion of the Iron Elite campaign, 110 years of Freedom.”

According to Rose, Harley-Davidson is hosting Iron Elite parties across the country in two or three different cities every month using the materials and images featuring his likeness. It appears there is a unique “cool” factor representing a lifestyle that has been captured in the campaign, and Rose has become the embodiment of it. The lifestyle includes sleek, customized bikes and custom helmets, all the accompanying clothing, including vest with patches and cigars. And, most importantly, the connection of the brotherhood of riders actually on the road doing what they love to do – RIDE!

Rose was in Memphis for the National Bike Riders Round-Up (NBR) held in Tunica, Miss. July 31-Aug. 3. On its website, the NBR describes itself as “…a gathering of brothers and sisters with a common interest of motorcycling and socializing in a non-commercialized atmosphere, but due to changing times we’re leaning in the direction of commercialism but we still hold to being a grass roots operation.”

In line with the commercial end of things, Harley-Davidson and its Iron Elite campaign had a significant and welcomed presence at the annual roundup, passing out materials and giveaways, including the patches baring Rose’s image.

Many of the thousands of bikers in town for the NBR weekend motored their way throughout Greater Memphis, and Beale Street was a major destination. Following his TSD interview, Rose and his PR team (led by former Memphian Larry Perry) visited Beale Street, and it was clear from all the photo requests and autograph requests that the campaign has been a hit, making him a rising star in the biker circuit.
‘Putting your stamp on it’

An avid Harley-Davidson bike rider, Memphian Cedric Wright – owner/operator of the downtown Avis Rental Car – was among those enjoying the Harley-Davidson camaraderie in Greater Memphis last weekend.

Wright has a beautiful piece of machinery, even by my non-biker standards. It is burgundy and chrome with some of the coolest customizations: 23-inch front wheel with “23” cut outs in it; and a “wanging” stereo system that includes a DVD player just for starters.

“The purchase of the bike is many times the least expensive thing,” said Wright. “Custom wheels, handle bars, stereo systems, lighting and more are usually done after purchase. We truly make a personal statement with our bikes and love riding!”

David “Big Swole” Rose, the Atlanta biker who has teamed with Harley-Davidson to help the company acknowledge and make a positive statement to one of its most important market segments, puts it this way:

“You take it and you personalize it. You want to stand out. You want to be original. You want people to see your bike in the midst of a plethora of bikes and it be identifiable,” said Rose.

“You want to be out at a restaurant or bar and they see your bike and say, ‘That’s Big Swole’s bike!’ And that’s what it’s all about … making it yours, putting your stamp on it!”


Bernal E. Smith II is President/Publisher of The New Tri-State Defender

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