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Zulu Alpha Kilo explains how he helped Harley-Davidson protect Sikh bikers with the Tough Turban

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Zulu Alpha Kilo won the “Best Diversity and Inclusion Content Marketing Program” and the Chair’s Award categories at the Drum Awards for Content 2021 and the “Automotive and Transportation” category at the Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021 with its “Tough Turban” campaign for Harley-Davidson. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveals the secrets of this successful project …

The challenge

Harley-Davidson is a brand founded on the love of the road and its riders are passionate about the freedom it offers. However, for some runners, this freedom came at the expense of their safety and their very identity.

For Sikh men, the turban is a deeply important part of their identity. For decades, Sikhs who rode motorcycles had to choose between their beliefs and their safety, as all Sikh men are required to cover their hair as a sign of respect and humility.

Because traditional motorcycle helmets violate this religious principle, the government of the Canadian province of Ontario passed a law in 2018 that exempts Sikh men from the law requiring all motorcyclists to wear protective helmets. The exemption was a hard-earned step forward, but it also introduced a crucial question: How could Sikh riders engage in their passion while ensuring their safety while riding without a traditional helmet?

This created an interesting and unusual challenge: how to develop an alternative to the motorcycle helmet so that Sikh motorcyclists no longer have to choose between their beliefs and their safety.

The strategy

If anyone could take on that challenge, it would be the world’s most iconic motorcycle brand and its largest Canadian dealership, Pfaff Harley-Davidson in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Harley-Davidson attracts bikers of all cultures, but is often seen as the choice of old whites. Taking on a challenge like this was an opportunity for Harley-Davidson to help a group of bikers overcome a tall order to fully embrace their passion – and send a signal about the importance of diversity. The magnitude of the need is great – Canada is just behind India in the number of Sikhs in the country.

Through conversations with Sikh horsemen, an interesting historical truth has been uncovered. In ancient times, Sikh warriors would go into battle with chain mail woven into the fabric of their turbans. This provided protection without violating religious principles. This sparked our thinking: why couldn’t a modern equivalent be created to provide the security Sikhs deserve? It also led to the insight behind the initiative: with the right motorcycle gear, Sikh riders could be empowered to protect who they are.

The countryside

Tough Turban is a marriage of ancient traditions and modern, high-tech engineering. It is a turban made of impact resistant materials that also fully meets the requirements of the Sikh faith.

A critical step was the development of the turban itself. Armed with a powerful concept, we have assembled our team of industrial design experts with experience in 3D printing and composite fabrics used in bulletproof clothing. After a series of prototypes, a final design was developed. About half of the overall fabric is normal turban material, but the outer layers include Dyneema, a 3D printed carbon fiber chain mail, and non-Newtonian foam, which is normally soft but instantly hardens on impact . These are the elements that make it a tougher turban.

Once the design was complete, the next part of the plan was the communications needed to get the word out. A website was the anchor of the effort. It contains a video that features several Sikh horsemen discussing the need that the resistant turban met, as well as how the turban was actually designed. Along with the video, open source production files for the turban were released to enable manufacturers around the world to be able to produce the turbans in their own markets. Public relations support outlining the initiative launched in early June, including posts on all Pfaff Harley-Davidson social channels.

The results

The Tough Turban initiative has been a resounding success.

The media response exploded overnight with coverage in 171 US media, 54 in Canada, 18 in the UK and 11 in India, totaling 238.8 million impressions gained and advertising value of 2.19 million of dollars.

Quantitative research with people who own or are considering buying a motorcycle has shown a significant change in perception after being exposed to the Tough Turban initiative:

  • 87% considered Harley-Davidson to be more favorable

  • 86% considered Harley-Davidson to be more innovative

  • 83% saw Harley-Davidson as more inclusive

  • 85% were more likely to consider buying a Harley-Davidson

Three manufacturers have reached out to explore full-scale production, including the world’s largest producer of two-wheeled motor vehicles. The potential to save lives with this idea is enormous. It could offer protection to millions of Sikh motorcyclists around the world.

This project won the Drum Awards for Content 2021 and the Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2021. Find out which of the Drum Awards are currently open for nominations.


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