Surfing: Brought to you by...
Written by Ben Matson, Swellnet's founder and bloke in charge.
Over the last four days Swellnet has been running a sponsorship campaign on our homepage 'Wave Of The Day' photo. Section sponsorships like these are sporadic, but certainly not new to Swellnet – it's one of a couple of different ways we generate revenue in and around standard banner advertising.
However, the response to this campaign was something new.
The sponsor is Hungry Jack's and the presence of their logo on our WOTD raised criticism on our Facebook page which reached a peak over the weekend, just a couple of days into the month-long campaign. Interestingly, we received no commentary on our own website or via email, only on Facebook. This may suggest something in the nature of social media but it's also worth exploring.
Amongst a wide range of feedback (all of which was acknowledged as much as was possible on the first wave-filled weekend in ages!) the common thread seem to be that Swellnet shouldn't be associating with, or promoting, fast food brands.
When we enquired whether soft drinks, energy drinks, breweries or other alcohol sponsors would be more acceptable, many respondents were quick to justify their presence, due to their 'prior advertising history with surfing', and more interestingly, their synergies with the surfing lifestyle.
It appeared this wasn't, as it first seemed, simply a health issue. And that brings about an interesting juxtaposition: At what point should non-surfing (or 'non-endemic') brand advertising become acceptable on a surfing website? And how does a brand transcend traditional advertising to suddenly become 'accepted' within the surfing lifestyle?
Over the last eleven and a half years, Swellnet has relied almost exclusively on advertising to remain a free service. And due to the surf industry's slow advertising migration from print media to online, we've had to look further afield for sources of revenue.
We've run successful campaigns from a wide range of advertisers, including car manufacturers, alcohol brands, electronic companies, energy drinks, men's health products, and breakfast cereals. None of which have invoked a reaction like what we've seen with the inclusion of a small Hungry Jack's logo on our Wave Of The Day.
Putting aside personal preferences, it's worth pointing out that soft drink, energy drink and fast food companies are three of the largest sporting advertisers in the country. Most consumers wouldn't bat an eyelid at seeing a multitude of sponsor logos on a football guernsey or V8 Supercar. However surfing's position as a recreational sport puts it into a unique category – and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Still, it'd be good to erect some borders around this issue.
Lastly, it's also worth noting that prior to the inception of the Dream Tour, sponsorship of surf contests was split roughly 50/50 between surfing companies and non-endemics. After a few years of surf industry exclusivity the ratio is shifting again courtesy of the GFC and industry shake up. //BEN MATSON