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Lorillard Plans to Take on the Marlboro Man With 'Racy' Harley-Davidson Cigarettes

September 10, 1987|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Can a grinning couple on a Harley-Davidson knock the Marlboro Man off his high horse?

The folks at Lorillard Inc. sure hope so. That's because Harley-Davidson isn't just a motorcycle anymore. Now it's also a cigarette.

Behind the racy new brand is Lorillard, the tobacco company that makes Newport and Kent brands. Now, it hopes to woo younger smokers by naming a cigarette after the high hog of motorcycles. But before spending an estimated $100 million to market it nationally, Lorillard has begun test-marketing Harley's in Terre Haute, Ind.

"We're not just going after motorcycle riders," said Sara R. Ridgway, vice president of public relations at New York-based Lorillard. "We think we can compete with the Marlboro cowboy," she said. Lorillard couldn't have found a tougher--or bigger--competitor. Right now, one in four U.S. smokers say that best-selling Marlboro is their brand, according to maker Philip Morris Cos. But a Marlboro brand manager refused to comment on the latest contender.

Much like Marlboro, Harley is pushing image. And that image isn't lost on the anti-tobacco forces. "I can't think of a better symbol for a cigarette," said Irving Riemer, vice president of the American Cancer Society. "It says, for those people who are risk takers and daredevils, this cigarette is for you"

"I'd tip my hat to them, but in the same way that I'd tip my hat to the Mafia if it figured a new way to bump somebody off," said John F. Banzhaf, executive director of the Washington-based lobby group, Action on Smoking & Health.

Lorillard is hardly the first company to associate its name with Harley-Davidson. Currently, more than 65 companies that make everything from T-shirts to a brew called Harley Heavy Beer are licensees of the Milwaukee-based company. But none of these licenses have anywhere near the potential advertising clout of Lorillard.

The cigarette ads and billboards in Terre Haute feature a helmet-less couple riding a motorcycle. The ads show the gold Harley-Davidson eagle stamped on a black cigarette pack and the brand's slogan, "Take a new road."

"For once, motorcyclists will be seen in a positive light," said Jeffrey Bleustein, vice president of parts and accessories at Harley-Davidson. "The riders will be clean-cut. It will look a lot like a Kodak ad."

Dealers Ambivalent

But not everyone at Harley-Davidson is thrilled with the new image.

In fact, some Harley-Davidson dealers bickered when they heard about it earlier this year at a dealers meeting in Baltimore. "Sure, there were some who thought it might be bad for our image," said James Paterson, the company's marketing director. "But we're not encouraging anyone to smoke. We're just saying, if you do smoke, it might as well be Harley's."

One local dealer, Oliver Shokouh, owner of Harley-Davidson of Glendale, said he has mixed feelings. "When I first saw it," he said, "I wondered why Harley-Davidson would want its name on a cancer-causing product. But there are a lot of people who are willing to tattoo the Harley-Davidson logo to themselves. I suppose these same enthusiasts will buy a few packs."

No doubt, there will be some ready-made customers, said E. L. Stillman, executive director of the Huntington Park-based Harley-Davidson Owners Assn. "Some people are so happy to see anything that says Harley-Davidson on it that they'll smoke it even if it kills them."

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