Inside the Hells Angels’ Brand Strategy

What do you mean, they haven’t sued the Pope yet?

In case you missed this New York Times piece over the holiday weekend, it’s a must read about how the Hells Angels have gone from being a bunch of criminals on motorcycles to being a real-life brand, complete with the merchandising, reputation management and lawsuits this shift entails.

While they do not technically have a PR rep, they do have a lawyer—and they appear love a good suing even more than they love the way their leather jackets perfectly complement their leathery complexions.

Our favorite takeaways:

Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation, a nonprofit established in California in 1970…owns and protects the club’s intellectual property.

In the United States, the corporation has 18 trademark registrations covering the use of seven different marques, including a half-dozen or so variations of the death’s-head icon, and additional trademark registrations in more than a dozen other countries.

Here’s the group’s leader on what he would do to an average Joe on the street who refused to relinquish a t-shirt bearing the number 81 (that’s “H” and “A”, the eight and first letters of the alphabet):

“I’d beat him up and take it.”

Is that what “brand advocate” really means? You should really read the whole article: it’s well worth one of your ten monthly freebies if you’re not a subscriber.

And yes, we know that those are different bikers in the picture. Do you want to get sued?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.