As the ASP Quiksilver Pro France Championship Tour of Surfing kicks off this week, surfing professionals and fans are in for a week of great surfing on beautiful French beaches. Whether or not they realize it though, everyone from the athletes themselves to fans and casual observers will be marketed or marketed to. Even you have, by reading the first sentence of this paragraph, experienced marketing’s grasp.
As Kelly Slater, eleven time ASP World Tour champion, enters the water to square off against his rival, Dane Reynolds for their round 2 heat, the branding and marketing present hits a spectator like myself harder than a ten foot wave. A large buoy displaying the logo of the ASP World Tour’s sponsor, Quiksilver, bobs in the water and lets the competitors know where to start, while dozens of banners with Quiksilver’s logo line the beach. Were the tour not taking place on this particular beach, it would likely be nothing more than sand, sea, and tourists, absent of corporate influence.
Just before Kelly and Dane squared off, the Roxy Pro Tour heat between Bianca Buitendag and Nikki Van Dijk finished up, with Buitendag edging out Van Dijk for the win and a place in round three. Roxy is the branch of Quiksilver marketed towards women and girls. Roxy’s logo is a heart shaped combination of two Quiksilver logos, the iconic mountain with a wave cresting over its peak. During the commercial intermissions, Roxy ads play showing tanned beauties surfing, running, doing yoga, dressing in hipster or bohemian fashion, pretty much sticking true to stereotypical California girl stereotypes, with a little more focus perhaps, on surfing. The point is that Roxy isn’t selling to girls surfboards, nor wetsuits, nor clothing lines. Roxy is selling a lifestyle. If you wear Roxy clothes or surf Roxy boards, you too can be that cool, tanned, sexy, mysterious California surfer chick.
What is interesting to note is that a Quiksilver board and a Roxy board are identical, except for the logo. There is no difference between surfboards for men and women. They may vary in size depending on the height of the surfer but that’s really all. Roxy exists because Quiksilver decided a while ago that it had to segment its audience, more specifically girls. By using heart-shaped logos and enough pink, Quiksilver successfully created a new brand that could attract even more customers and perhaps inspire interest in young, impressionable minds that Quiksilver by itself never could. Throw a little pink trim on an otherwise black wetsuit, throw a heart shaped logo on it, and all of a sudden you have a target audience whose eyes have been caught, eyes that may not have been caught before.
As Kelly Slater paddles into his first wave on a board practically identical to those of Van Dijk and Buitendag, it strikes me that marketing divides and then conquers people. Both Slater and Buitendag want the same thing from their boards. They want the same thing from their wetsuits. Most of all they want, and get, the same thing from surfing. Both of these athletes started surfing one day and got hooked on the feeling of becoming one with a wave and letting the amazing force and power of the reckless ocean carry them under the warm sun of Australia, Tahiti, South Africa, or on this day, France.
With all the penetration that marketing has enjoyed in our lives, its sobering to remember that there are things marketing cannot touch. The surfers on tour this week don’t surf because of Quiksilver or Roxy. They surf because of surfing itself and the emotions it brings. While its true Quiksilver could use advertising to sell the beauty of it all; the crashing waves, the warm sun, the good times; to almost anyone, Quiksilver could never sell what surfing means to someone who loves to surf. At the end of the day, Quiksilver and Roxy can only attempt to enhance this experience in a small way. They can’t give you your first wave or make you keep going back to the ocean after wiping out one hundred times. They can only hope to come along for the ride, a ride that is purely human and natural, something that is priceless.