The Rebirth of an Industry
Surfers don't have to cast their memories too far back to remember a time when companies – most notably Billabong and Rip Curl – proudly espoused their heritage and longevity in marketing campaigns.
Up until a few years ago 'Since 1969' and 'Since 1972' were central to each companies identity, in Billabong's case it was even a part of their logo. Most articles of their clothing featured the innocent sounding epigraphs amongst the patterns and prints. Rather then being innocuous statements however, the date stamps were devised to send a strong message to consumers and to other companies: We were here first. In effect Billabong and Rip Curl were staking off the historical ground surrounding surf culture to prevent newcomers from making their own claim.
History is a strong suit in surfing. In the water it manifests itself in localism and exclusivity over outsiders and newcomers. In the marketplace it exemplifies the 'core' aspect of a company: How long they've been around for and how dedicated they are to the sport. So vital has this perception been that Nike's 2002 purchase of Hurley was reportedly a means to acquire their own slice of surf history.
Yet such are the whims of fashion and the nuances of youth culture that history and tradition aren't always a positive for a company.
In the early 1990's Levi's Jeans had been in business for over 100 years and was one of the world's most popular brands. Part of Levi's success was advertisements that used classic old songs, 'Stand By Me', 'When A Man Loves A Woman'. Songs recorded up to forty years earlier that embodied the ideas Levi's were trying to sell: history and tradition.
In the mid-90's the fortune's of Levi's Jeans took a hit. They became desperately unpopular amongst younger consumers, the consensus being that kids didn't want to wear what their parents were wearing. Tradition had backfired on Levi's and sales plummeted. A new strategy was rolled out in 1994 with new lines of jeans catering solely to kids. Their advertising followed suit; in 1994 Levi's scrapped the use of old songs and featured a contemporary song in their marketing campaign for the first time. They no longer sold history but youthful relevance.
A very similar thing is currently happening in surfing and it is best exemplified by Rip Curl and Billabong scrapping their long-standing date stamps. The marketing campaigns of each brand no longer push the barrows of tradition and longevity. In the ever-evolving marketplace such claims have suddenly become a burden. The people who actually care about such core credentials - that is, older surfers - aren't their target market and they also aren't buying their clothes.
Mike Beckerleg is the director of Ogilvy Public Relations, in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article he said, ''A lot of companies had their moment in the limelight only to wake up and find themselves out of touch." The goal, he says, is to stay relevant. In the same article an anonymous source made a statement that echoes Levi's plight of the 90's: ''Once a kid sees his father wearing a youth brand the game is already over.''
Although it's assumed that Nike bought Hurley to acquire history and get a toehold in the surf market the Oregon-based multinational are now making their own self-branded foray into surfing. Unlike some of the existing surfwear companies Nike appear have a clear sight on the direction the wind is blowing. They have built up a stable of sponsored surfers – Kolohe Andino, Julian Wilson, Carrissa Moore Laura Enever – that reflect their target market in age and attitude. Most tellingly, Nike aren't banking on history or tradition but the inverse of that – youthful relevance and a new beginning. The catchphrase to Nike's latest campaign sums it all up succinctly: Create Your Own Legacy