Extreme Advertising: Go Big or Go Home

Extreme Advertising: Go Big or Go Home

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Extreme Advertising: Go Big or Go Home

This Maxim climbing gear ad is an example of using both aggressive language and images to promote climbing as an extreme sport. North Face uses this image in their web page. If you wear North Face gear, you too can take your ice axes and back-counrty skis into the Tibetan wilderness. Adidas uses this image in their trail running ads. The caption in the image reads "Runners. Yeah, We're Different." It invites people to relate to some of the more intimate details of a separate subculture.

Advertisements of outdoor gear tell us we live in an extreme world today. No longer do we go out mountain biking or skiing, they tell us. We need to go big, risking our lives to promote an image of ourselves as one who can push the edge of the envelope by extreme mountain biking and extreme skiing. NorthFace, a high-end outdoor clothing company started this language in the 1970s in its advertising of ski apparel. Now, most every sport has gone extreme. To advertise this new image, companies have attempted to use a variety of techniques that separate themselves from the rest of the crowd. They include:

--Creating an Extreme Image to a Wide-Based Consumer Audience: Boulder Gear and North Face.

--Advertising to a Young, Aggressive Group Obsessed with Speed: Manastash and an ad inside APEX Magazine

--Creating an Insider Feeling of the Extreme...with a Dash of Playfulness: Nike and Adidas

Extremism as an image has come to include outdoor activities such as kayaking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking, windsurfing and a host of other mainstream outdoor activities. It has also brought about a variety of subcategories as well. Sky diving now has six new disciplines, including sky surfing, free flying and free style-an aerial ballet. There ís even an extreme version of the extreme sport of sky diving called BASE jumping (BASE=Bridge, Aerial, Structure, Earth) in which participants jump from low-lying structures and open their chute with only seconds separating them between an extreme experience and death (Heath 1997: p4). Sports are not the only aspect of extreme though. The language has seeped into our everyday vocabulary to the point that we can not do anything without having the possibility of doing it extreme. Bill Gates speaks of extreme programming, and there ís extreme golf in which participants play golf around unused summer ski resorts. Books of extreme adventure have been popularized by John Krauker's Into Thin Air.

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Even the soothing experience of running has gone extreme.

Creating an Extreme Image to a Wide-Based Consumer Audience

Companies such as Adidas, Nike, NorthFace, APEX magazine, Outside Magazine and Boulder Gear are a few examples of companies that have all began strong advertising promotions to push the image of extremism using relatively traditional techniques. Unlike previous decades when outdoor companies promoted themselves and their products as made for everyone, they have began promoting extreme images to a wide audience as a means to approaching the outdoors. In doing so, they have meta communicated an image to their viewers. This concept refers to a shared, but usually unstated, taken-for-granted assumption about the nature of communication itself. It is communication about communication (Goldman & Papason 1998: p 33). Meta communicating is associated with conspicuous false assumptions, a type of advertising style that promotes the consumer to believe that he or she will be able to match themselves up to the standard of the person in the ad. This underlying message is consciously understood often, yet people still seem to buy into putting themselves 'into the shoes' of the image. Most advertisements relating to extreme products use this concept. Two examples of this can be seen in adds for the outdoor clothing companies Boulder Gear and North Face.

Advertising to a Young, Aggressive Group Obsessed with Speed

Advertising the extreme image is often times more poignant and intense than what Boulder Gear and North Face adds portray. These images are rather smooth and non-agressive as their audience is broader spectrum and not as open to in-your-face, quirky advertising. While this may work for this audience, two problems occur when it is used by companies trying to advertise to a smaller audience intrested in being extreme. One problem is that they often find themselves caught in a rut of advertising that others in the same field duplicate year after year. If everyone put up adds of gracious skiers smoothly cascading down step terrain, there would be an over saturation of this image and the audience of these advertisements would get bored. Actually, there is an over saturation of this type of advertising, but it works, and people keep coming back to companies like Boulder Gear and North Face. But it only works for a certain age group. A younger generation who associates with the Internet and video games does not want this traditional approach, they need excitement, and want to feel that what they are buying is authentically extreme.

According to the 1996 Simmons Market Research Bureau Study of Media and Markets, the targeted audience is most likely to be aged eighteen to thirty-four, slightly more often male (fifty-four percent), and living in the west. Because they are younger, they tend not to have not been married, have less than three years of college education, and have an income between $40,000 and $59,999 or $100,000 or more. To cater to this crowd, advertisements often times use images and language in a nontraditional manner with images being contorted with large, flashy, aggressive words highlighting the image. Hal Espen, Outside Magazine feature editor, believes that to capture the attention and desire of this crowd, one needs to have "a very strong narrative voice, a strong element of surprise, a shapeliness of story telling, and a lot of attitude" (Bing 1997: p49). Examples of adds that lure in a younger, more aggressive and alternative focused audience are the Hemp clothing company Manastash and an ad inside APEX Magazine advertising itself.

Creating an Insider Feeling of the Extreme...with a Dash of Playfulness

A final strategy companies are using to lure people into purchasing extreme gear is to address the viewers as though they were a group of insiders or members of a select group. This is especially true for Nike, who has become synonymous with sport culture. "In the Nike organizational structure, people pride themselves on connecting with with athletes in terms of authenticity of specific sports and their cultures" (Goldman 1998: p36). As Nike has grown, they have come to a point where they are so large and their image so well know, that they can afford to address highly specific audiences. Instead of advertising to runners or even women runners, Nike as well as Adidas, have made subdivided running into more categories. Trail running is the new area, with shoes that have extra strength and support and sometimes even Gor-Tex lining for those who run in extremely extreme conditions. Icing on top of the cake has been how they advertise though. Both use a strategy whereupon they capture the minute details of the sports that only an insider in the sport would experience. Associated with this is a sense of playfulness, as though the company knows you so well that they can create this little inside joke and you, as part of the cult, will understand (Goldman 1998: p 88).

One ad by Adidas has done just this for the Lewis and Clark College women's cross country team. The add uses a picture of two women in the foreground who do not look extreme in any manner. Both in fact look like normal runners you would see out on the trail with unmatching running outfits. One is behind a tree looking for golf balls. Her friend sees in the distance two guys riding towards them on mountain bikes. Captioned within the picture is the slogan for this ad, "Runners. Yeah, we're different." Girls from the cross country team apparently have this ad pinned up in their locker room with names of runners pointing to the two girls. Some of the names have been crossed out when others had an experience more similar or more authentic and decided their name should be first. This ad is geared towards a female audience who does not tend to desire as much trying to put on an image of extremeness. Two other male centered adds for extreme trail-running can be found in the following adds by Nike and Adidas.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, Kate. "Golf goes extreme: U.X. Open draw brands trying to reach growing group." Advertising Age: 9 August 1999, p 14.

Goldman, Bob & Stephen Papson. Nike Culture 1998. SAGE Publications: London, England.

Heath, Rebecca Piirto. "You can buy a thrill: chasing the ultimate rush." American Demographics: June 1997, p 47-52.
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