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Not The Best Vest

By Mike Savidge

A Harley Marketing Miscue

Don’t touch that patch, man.

Most people who ride motorcycles, whether they consider themselves “bikers” or not, understand the meaning of the three-piece patches worn on the jackets and vests of some of their riding brethren. Those patches are used to show membership in a motorcycle club. They are known as a club's “colors” and are not to be trifled with. 

Motorcycle clubs are different from riding organizations such as H.O.G. or others in that they have a qualification process for membership called prospecting where the other club members observe someone over a period of time and then decide if that person should be invited to join. Earning your patch is a time honored tradition and those who have gone through the process don't approve of it being disrespected by anyone. That includes someone using it for commercial purposes. You'd think people working for a company like Harley-Davidson would know this little factoid. I'm sure most of them do but somehow they made a marketing miscue on this issue a few years ago. 

If you were strolling through the clothing department of your local Harley-Davidson dealership back in 2015, you might have come across the “Men's Vintage Denim Vest”. The official catalog number was 96476-15VM and it was made in China. The vest sleeves were frayed and the material was distressed trying to give it a road worn look. On the front were two Harley patches. The branding on the back mimicked a club three-piece patch with “Harley” on the top rocker which is where the club name normally goes. “Davidson” was on the bottom rocker which tells the club's chapter or territory. They put a skull patch in the middle as a club logo. Then they took it one step further by adding a small square “MC” patch which is normally used as a Motorcycle Club designation. The patches were cloth and made to look crude. Put this vest on and you instantly become Mr. Biker Badass. Not quite. Wear something like that into the wrong place or event and you could have problems. 

The vests weren't on sale for very long. I wrote a story about them back then and sent an inquiry to Harley asking if they had received any feedback about the vest. They had and informed me that the vest was no longer available. The official response explained that there was a process for reviewing and approving graphics but there was also “some amount of subjectivity involved in the interpretation of designs and combination of graphic elements, as was the case here. The intent of the graphic on the vest was to evoke the feeling of a raw, customized and worn-in look.”  “We did receive feedback from some of our consumers and dealers that this graphic may be unintentionally mistaken for a club patch – and that’s feedback that we took seriously. Due to the potential for misinterpretation surrounding the meaning of the graphics on this garment, we discontinued this item from our apparel line. Customers who purchased the vest will receive a full refund at the original point of sale no questions asked, and we apologize to our customers for any inconvenience.” 

Did they really say, “may be unintentionally mistaken for a club patch”? Actually, you couldn't copy the layout any better than that. It’s amazing that no one in the marketing approval process didn't see the problem with this product until it was on the sales floor. 

Harley-Davidson has had many more marketing hits than flops (we won't mention the Harley cologne and perfume products from the 90's). They did the right thing in pulling the item from sale and offering refunds. Still, I wonder how many people who bought one decided to keep it as a collectible?