Praying to the surf GOD for street cred

Marketing to youth has got to be the most fun you can have in this business with your clothes on. As well as being the only sector that demands unorthodox, off-the-wall ideas, youth marketing requires a deep understanding of what makes tweens and teens tick. To that end, Strategy gave four (real) plugged-in youth

Marketing to youth has got to be the most fun you can have in this business with your clothes on. As well as being the only sector that demands unorthodox, off-the-wall ideas, youth marketing requires a deep understanding of what makes tweens and teens tick. To that end, Strategy gave four (real) plugged-in youth marketing consultants fantasy briefs and asked them to strut their stuff; following is the proposed strategy for a new boardwear brand.

The brief

To: Greg Skinner, president, MINA

From: Judy Wampole, president, Surfwhere? Inc.


We’re thinking about developing a new line of hip surfwear for youth, but we need you to look into how we should position it first. Is Canada ready for another line? Who would buy it? We don’t have a huge marketing budget – do we have a chance?

The strategy

Boardwear in Canada? It doesn’t make much sense; Canada isn’t exactly a surfing Mecca. But then it doesn’t need to be. Up here, we have snowboarding, skateboarding, beaches and a whole host of other activities that support the category; they’re the same things that allow brands like Quiksilver, OP, Billabong, and Rusty to thrive, and hence so can this brand.

The first thing we have to worry about is positioning. And as anyone operating in the youth market should know, this can only come from effective market segmentation. Too many brands castrate themselves by not knowing exactly who they’re selling to or why the people buying are buying.

In this case, our core consumer gravitates towards the beach bum lifestyle: relaxation, drinking, friends, flip-flops, BBQs, water, sports; casual everything, with a streak of rebelliousness. Mix-in youth culture and urban living (bake for 30 minutes), and out come key target segments: beach goers/people outside (for whom the brand offers usability, practicality and beach style); urban kids and skaters (who gravitate heavily towards ‘the lifestyle’ and brand authenticity); and the affluent – the Mercedes moms who buy/finance the purchase of brands like Quiksilver and Roxy for their kids, who see them as ‘decent’ and great cottage/casual wear.

The name? GOD. Why? Because it’s blasphemous, irreverent and the fuss it will generate will get us the attention and cred we need. And let’s face it, the name is straight-up cool. It’s also great for our marketing campaign. We can use slogans like ‘Surf GOD’ and ‘GOD kicks ass.’ The girl’s line will be called GODDESS.

The clothes in this category are very similar, to the point of homogeneity. Hence our brand strategy is differentiation and cultivating strong bonds with our consumers. We’re positioning ourselves as a large niche player who will steal share from the big boys.

We’ll exploit the crossover that exists in skating, snowboarding, bmx-ing, mountain biking, playing volleyball and ultimate sports, sun worshipping and camping. Our goal is to be down with as many niches as possible, so that’s where you’ll find us.

Probably the most significant part of our strategy is our build. It’s slow – that means it could take three years to reach stabilization. Growth is key, but we know that in the youth market, aggressive growth (and brand maturation) leads to extinction – rapid commodification brings about consumer abandonment. During their teens, kids are highly focused on stressing their individuality. They also see a significant increase in disposable income, which provides them with monetary discretion. Together, these two factors spell death for brands that go ‘corporate’ too fast.

We’re not going to create a ‘brand image’ – rather, we’re going to create a ‘brand personality,’ which is much deeper. Such a personality will extend into the product and everything that surrounds it: its purpose, distribution, marketing… its vibe.

The second part is authenticity. Our marketing will let it be known that our clothes have all of the necessary details – the proper pockets, key rings, Velcro, etc. – for the appropriate activities, designed by the people who wear them and use them. We don’t want to replay Adidas trying to get into skateboarding.

For now, the product will go into small- and medium-sized retail outlets, versus large chains that will only serve to kill the brand. Besides, we want to build cachet, we want some exclusivity, we want uniqueness. You can’t offer that if you’re the Gap of boardwear.

You could argue that this is distribution, and that it has nothing to do with marketing, but you’d be wrong. Distribution is marketing. Where you are, how they sell you, why they sell you, all speaks to the brand’s personality.

Our marketing plan is multi-faceted, but with select spending. There’s little national youth media in this country, so it won’t be easy. We’ll use low-level mags and zines that cater to our target niche, but our emphasis is on getting our brand out there rather than relying on advertising.

We’ll advertise on skate, surf and board videos. You’d be surprised how many kids watch those and how many shops play them. While evaluating the beverage market, we learned that just having your brand flash by on video screens, even if there’s no sound, is an excellent motivator.

If we sponsor anything, it’s going to be a temperature clock at the beach – something useful that kids will appreciate and remember. We’ll sponsor the local forecast on the weather channel (which so many young people watch). And we’ll sponsor only small jams and local events, building our market from the bottom up. It’s far more cost effective than trying to go big time, and it cultivates stronger brand loyalty.

Our Web site will be a major focal point. While not all kids have access, and many could care less about the Internet, sites are still great for promotions and conveying information. More importantly, we’ll use it to show off our product line.

P-O-P is a major focus for us. We prefer to do the majority of our promotion in-store. One of MINA’s market analyses on clothing showed that visual in-store reminders were critical for educating the consumer and were the catalyst to purchase. We’ll also be using visually intense sales tags on our clothing, to serve the same purpose.

We will have some giveaways – hats, headwraps, visors – popular and coolly designed. We’ll also partner with an Ombrelle to do sunscreen, either private label or co-branded. Again, relevance with a value-add.

Other giveaways will include peelable, restickable window stickers. They’ll say ‘GOD on board’ (or GODDESS, for the girls). We’ll do regular stickers, too, because we want our logo plastered all over binders, lockers, books, bikes and helmets. Finally we’ll produce cute little surfer-girl toys for knapsacks and rave kids.

Our company vehicles will be dope low-rider pick-up trucks and jeeps – cred will go through the roof.

Notice that each one of our promotional and marketing tools is modular, thriving on its own, yet highly integrated and focused on building the brand at a grassroots level. Eventually we’ll go big time, but not right away. Even then, we’ll always make sure that we’re serving our (hard) core consumer, even if we have a softer component for the less inspired. The key is staying true to your roots and letting the consumer decide.


Greg Skinner is president of Toronto-based MINA, which provides market intelligence to companies demanding street-smart information. Contact MINA at (416) 504-6800 or e-mail