Product Placement Watch: Marvel Takes Yamaha for a Spin While Cruising with Harley-Davidson

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A lot of HOGs may think of a different “Captain America” when they think of Harley-Davidson and super heroes, but the motorcycle brand is looking to change that for a new generation. Harley-Davidson has launched the Assemble Your Freedom contest in cooperation with Marvel comics. The winner will “become a character in an Avengers comic.”

The partnership comes in anticipation of Marvel’s upcoming summer movie, The Avengers. The film, starring a team of core Marvel characters, includes Captain America, a hero with whom Harley-Davidson already had a deal in 2011. But one Marvel hero, a motorcycle hero, is missing from the Harley-Marvel team — the title character in the just-opened Ghost-Rider: Spirit of Vengeance movie starring Nicolas Cage..[more]

Building on Harley’s product placement in Captain America, The Avengers film is set to star the new Harley-Davidson Softail Slim model. This isn’t the first Marvel team-up for the bikemaker. In 2009, Harley-Davidson partnered with the Marvel film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And the upcoming Spike TV series based on Marvel hero Blade will feature Harley-Davidson’s VRSCD Night Rod.

Of course, Harley has been a Hollywood staple. But in recent years the brand has become more proactive in entertainment integration. In addition to the Marvel partnership, Harley has secured major cameos in TV (Sons of Anarchy) and film (Indiana Jones 4).

Harley-Davidson has been hanging with comic book heroes for decades and its relationships are by no means limited to Marvel. The first “Batcycle” of DC Comics hero Batman was a 1965 Harley-Davidson sidecar model. (Years later, in The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne opts for a slicker MV Agusta.) Last year, Harley-Davidson appeared at the ride of Kato, sidekick of The Green Hornet.

What is most interesting about the Harley-Marvel deal is who’s missing. One would imagine that the just-released Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence would be a prime opportunity to flex the partnerships superpowers. In the comic books, and original 2007 film, the Marvel hero rides a customized Harley chopper. But in the latest film, “the rider from hell” burns up the roads on…. a Yamaha.

Yes, Marvel’s hero with the flaming skull rides a Yamaha VMAX. The brand even had promotional considerations for its role.

So what happened? The film, panned by critics, may not have moved the needle for either brand, with marvel agreeing to license the sequel just to cash in. But for sure, some Harley fans were upset. Over at the Harley-Davidson fan forums, one wrote, “Ok, I just got back from seeing the new Ghost Rider movie and man it SUCKS!! I am the biggest Ghost Rider fan and also love Nick Cage as an actor but they ruined the movie. Cage is the only actor from the first movie, his kick ass Panhead is now a damn Jap bike…”

Marvel’s motorcycle-partnering mania goes beyond just the bike too. For those comic book nerds who also happen to be gear-heads, Marvel has partnered with UD Replicas to create leather motorcycle suits for Daredevil, X-Men, Iron Man and, yes, Captain America.

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