I spent most of my junior high and high school years as a skateboarder. These were the years spanning the late 1970s and early ’80s, years dominated by Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, and later, Ray “Bones” Rodriguez, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero. Those guys toyed with gravity and could do things with their toes inside sneakers that my fingers couldn’t pull off on a warm day and coated with rubber cement.
Skateboarder Magazine was my bible back then. It was my introduction to the great skaters, the great moves, the hottest equipment, great photography and wild new-journalism narratives. The magazine had it all. It also had one other dimension that captivated me: cool ads.
Yeah, some of the ads in Skateboarder were actually cool. Early on, the ad campaigns were product-driven and obvious. The Kryptonics ads were wildly effective at making a set of urethane wheels sexy. If their ad agency had been in charge of Paris Hilton, we might think she’s the greatest woman alive. Somehow those ads held the promise of fun in the pool or at the skatepark. Funny how a shot of well-lit gear can make you dream of how you want to spend your whole weekend.
But in 1978 Stacy Peralta teamed up with George Powell to form Powell-Peralta. Those first ads were anarchic. They presented a whole new take on what marketing could be for skateboards. They were completely image-driven. They didn’t show the riders pulling rad moves or touting the fantastic 36-ply African Bubinga wood decks coated with maple syrup and suction cups for perfect grip as you pull that fakie Ollie 360. (Well, there were a few.)
They set stuff on fire. To the 15-year-old brain they might as well have been passing out cocaine and hundred dollar bills. From that moment on, everything I bought was Powell-Peralta except for the Tracker Trucks on my boards.
I’m sure that sociologists would point to the influential period of life I was passing through as a big driver in why I connected with their marketing, but I still think there was more to it than the fact that I bought my first Powell-Peralta deck when I was 15. History tells us that Stacy Peralta was a genius and he was working with C.R. Stecyk III, whose peculiar resumé sat somewhere between performance artist and bomb maker, a certified parabolic genius if ever there was one.
The thing is, I’ve yet to encounter a marketing campaign half as cool as the Bones Brigade’s. Powell-Peralta didn’t just set the bar in my mind, they established a standard so high that no one else really understood it. Nothing in skateboarding has ever carried the power of the Bones Brigade. Those skaters weren’t cool. They were dorks—nerds, even. But they had mad skills and weren’t embarrassed by failure. It was that lack of artifice that made them utterly approachable.
Cycling could use a marketing campaign like that. Not the whole sport, but one brand that does something so unconventional, so without precedent, that the other companies snicker and think, “Yeah, good luck with that!” And then they suck in money like our Hoover eats sand after the kids go to the beach.
How I would love someone to turn all this marketing on its head. Hell, I’d love to be part of a team to conceptualize that campaign, in part, just to see what I could dream up. And there’s the rub. The only campaign I can think of that ever really inspired me, the only ad that really spoke to me at a visceral level was Seven Cycles’ campaign of “One bike, yours.” It was pretty genius in that it defined the promise of the company in only three words. But it didn’t speak to any larger social or hormonal drives I had. That may not be their fault, though, and honestly, I’m relieved not to have an as-yet undeveloped prefrontal cortex awash in testosterone and dopamine, because we all know that’s the bouillon cube of, “Hey, watch this!”
So this week’s group ride asks, whose branding do you like? Is there anyone within cycling you think is killing it? Whose efforts outside of the bike industry speak to you? And who do you think is ripe for a makeover?
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