The North Face goes big to talk about functionality

One of the brand's largest ever campaign investments uses extreme conditions to show what sets a new fabric apart.

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The North Face tested its newest fabric in rugged terrains, part of a major investment into a global campaign explaining the benefits of a material that will soon be integrated across its full product portfolio.

To show off the capabilities of its new “Futurelight” material, the brand put together an integrated campaign centred around a film called “Made to Defy.” It shows a climber tackling a sheer rock face, a snowboarder flying down sharp embankments and a mom dubbed the “best alpinist in the world,” all under extreme conditions. A voiceover compares the expectations the ad’s star defy to the features of products made from the new material.

“Futurelight,” which The North Face claims is its most advanced breathable-waterproof material, borrows a production process common in water filtration, medicine and electronics called nanospinning, creating nano-sized fibers impermeable to water but that lets air flow through. The North Face is introducing a line of jackets, pants and bibs this fall featuring the material, which will be integrated and featured across all of its product lines, including equipment and footwear.

Steve Lesnard, global VP of marketing at The North Face, tells strategy that the brand created a product technology that would challenge consumer expectations, namely that a waterproof product is uncomfortable, heavy and airless. Lesnard says that explaining a first-of-its kind product technology that does not yet exist to consumers is a challenge, which is why the brand needed visually-stimulating, fast-moving content that explained the outerwear through the voices of its own athletes who have tested waterproof products in the most extreme environments on earth. Though he couldn’t disclose exact dollar amounts, Lesnard says the campaign is “one of largest investment in a brand campaign to date.”

This strategic approach, Lesnard says, is to allow consumers to understand the durability behind the fabric. He says that traditionally, its competitors have had to compromise on elements like waterproofness or durability to introduce air permeability into a membrane, making it a major differentiator in an increasingly competitive outwear category.

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Lesnard says that while the messaging is through extreme sports, the audience is anyone interested in clothing that adapts to their needs, whether that’s for athletic or day-to-day use. The global campaign, led by Sid Lee, also features digital and print elements. In addition to the anthem film, the campaign also features spots that go into more detail about the features and benefits of Futurelight products.

In 2018, The North Face launched a female-focused global initiative to change the way it designs and markets its products and to bring more visibility to women in the outdoor adventure space, but its messaging is traditionally product-focused. And in 2017, the brand tweaked its rugged messaging for a more urban audience to try and grow awareness of its Nuptse puffy jacket using the theme of urban exploration.