Selling Skateboarding: Dissecting The Last 30 Years Of Skateboard Marketing
Skateboard ads have always had a certain formula. Usually, they have the best skate trick someone could come up with that month, with some kinda product shot and a logo thrown in the corner. The problem with this formula is that it's really hard to stand out, and with the amount of mind-blowing skateboarding coming out on Instagram every day, it's becoming nearly impossible to catch anyone's attention with this kind of ad. Here's an ode to some of the best skateboard ads of all time.
1) A VISION OF THE FUTURE – Vision Mark Gonzalez Ad
Back when all skateboard ads were almost all just a skate trick and a product shot, this might be the best ad ever produced using "the formula". A classic trick, done by one of the most iconic street skaters ever, promoting his first pro board, loaded with eye-catching poppy colors. This is an ad that could easily be framed and hung on the wall like expensive art.
2) A STEP AWAY FROM SKATEBOARDING – Powell Peralta Craig Stecyk Campaigns
When starting their new team George Powell and Stacey Peralta wanted to do stuff differently, so they brought on Craig Stecyk to help with branding. Stecyk coined the name "The Bones Brigade" because it didn't have the words "skateboarding" or "team" in the mix. To stand out in magazines full of skate pictures and product shots, the Powell Peralta ads featured neither. Stecyk said, "Let the magazines show the skateboarding, we show ideas and images".
3) THE ART OF WAR – Blind Skateboards Dear George
In terms of sales and market share, there might not be a more successful skate ad than Blind's “Dear George”. At a time when the big skate brands controlled everything, Powell Peralta let out an ad poking fun at smaller board brands that Rocco felt was aimed directly at him. One of Rocco's favorite books was The Art Of War, so in true Rocco fashion, he turned around went straight for the throat; making a series of boards clowning the famous Powell Peralta VCJ artwork.
Each graphic being a dumb version of the iconic VCJ artwork. The Ray Rodriguez Skull & Sword became the Gonz Skull & Banana, the Viking skull became the jock skull and best of all the Hawk skull became the Jason Lee Dodo skull. Even the Powell Peralta P got flipped into the Blind b for the ad, and immediately Blind sales started to skyrocket. By 1991, World and Blind were the biggest skate brands on earth and Powell was slowly crumbling; the rest is history.
4) LOOK WHO’S TALKING: Plan B Five Of These Pros
In a time when the industry moved a lot slower, print ads were the primary source of information for people around the world and even in California. This ad turned heads, had team managers scrambling for their phones, and left the industry a buzz.
This ad introduced a new “super team” to the world and is a great ad in lots of ways. First off, the simplicity of it, there’s nothing needed, not even a skate photo to create probably the most talked about skate ad of all time. Originally dropped as just a list of pros that would be quitting their sponsors to start a new super team, the next ad dawned a few scratches showing the real list of team guys. Carl Hyndman and Mike Turnanski created the ad like this for two main reasons, one that they were on a budget and two they hadn’t even finalized who the actual team was by the time the ad had to run.
*Note: You can tell they were in a rush making this because Sean Sheffey’s name is misspelled in the original.
This ad has been replicated so many times through history, which really speaks to the impact it had on the entire industry. Here are some of my favorites below (thunder ad, Dialtone foldable ad).
5) THE ART OF IMITATION - A-Team Mission Of Mercy Ads
A-team skateboards used to run ads where if you could replicate the trick and send it in, they would give you $1000 and give you an ad in the magazine. It was a pretty rad way of getting people to pay attention to their ads, as well as a good way to get their pros to step their game up, no one wants some unknown kid coming in and showing them up. One of the riders that submitted tricks and was discovered from this ad campaign was Chris Cole. Although these ads were dope, apparently they didn't sell skateboards...
6) MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN - Vans Shoes Geoff Rowley x Daniel Howard Sturt
There was a time when Rowley was in his window and he really felt untouchable. Partner that with Daniel Howard Sturt being possibly the best film skate photographer of all time, there’s something truly magnificent about these old Vans ads. Everything about them is perfect, the yellow border, the composition of the photos, the style that is Geoff Rowley and the magnitude of the tricks. It’s no wonder that Vans tried to keep this going in later years after DHS stopped really shooting skate photos.
Note that Vans tried to re-create this style of ad later on by tweaking Anthony Acosta photos look a little like the classic DHS photography.
Geoff Rowley Vans Ad Rowley Classics
Geoff Rowley 50-50 Staples Centre - Vans Ad
Geoff Rowley - Vans Ad For Rowley SPV shot by Anthony Acosta
7) THE OUTSIDERS - Nike What If We Treated All Athletes Like Skateboarders
In 1998, Nike was in the midst of their first of 3 attempts to enter the skate shoe market. They partnered with ad agency ‘Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ depicting other athletes getting treated like skateboarders. Making an ad of this style is really hard to pull off, comedy marketed to skateboarders often misses the mark, but this ad does a great job poking fun at a small part of skate culture.
Although this first shot at entering the skate market ultimately failed, it left us with these amazing video ads and one of the best skateboarding ad campaigns of all time. It also shows, that no matter how good your marketing is, you’re still not going to win if your products are terrible. The shoes back then were so bad, Bam used to tear the swooshes off and glue them to other shoe brands. See the Chode pictured below.
8) WHAT’S MY AGE AGAIN? – Toy Machine Every Toy Ad Ever Made
Ed Templeton has introduced a lot of people in skateboarding to art, photography, entrepreneurship, politics, veganism amongst a slew of other things. In skateboarding, the trends have always changed fast and are now moving faster than ever, but these ads have stood the test of time. Point and case, check the ads below, lots of them are now well over a decade old and could still be plucked from any magazine today. Anything that can make an ad stand out in a magazine as thick as a 2001 Transworld is a feat, Ed's art and ramblings successfully achieved that.
9) SEX SELLS – Shorty’s Rosa Campaign
Skateboarding is a male-dominated industry, so using hot girls to sell products isn’t groundbreaking by any means. But the Shorty’s Rosa campaign definitely did it bigger and better than any other skate brand has been able to (sorry Hubba). Rosa was the face of Shorty’s hardware for a long time and the unofficial pin-up girl of the skate industry for even longer. She even got royalties from shirts and videos Shorty’s put out. As a struggling university student, in 1996 she made $21,000 off royalties alone (skateboarder magazine).
10) TIMING IS EVERYTHING – Es Footwear Menikmati Wazzup
When the Budweiser Wazzup ads dropped, they gained widespread popularity, you would hear people quoting them in schools, malls, and skateparks. Es was quick to jump on it and put together their own version featuring some of the most idolized pro skaters of all time. The ad is cool because it's so dated now, but speaks so heavily to very specific place and time for skateboarding.
11) CONSISTENCY IS KEY – Enjoi Campaigns
Skateboarding is about having fun and no other brand embodies that like Enjoi. The bold colors and edgy jokes always stood out in any magazine flooded with tones of grey cement and skateboard pictures. Enjoi always did a really good job of feeling like a crew of skateboarders that actually hung out.
12) HIGH FASHION – Palace Skateboarding Equipment (DONE)
Palace takes everything traditional skate companies do and does the complete opposite, it's no wonder so many skater owned brands cite them as their inspiration. Palace marketing is probably the best of any current company out. In a sea of ads featuring forgettable skate tricks mixed with product shots, Palace always seems to bring something new to the table. Our personal favorite being the Palace Skateboarding Equipment ads that adorned double-decker buses around London, it's like a little inside joke that only skaters would understand.
My site won't let me embed Instagram links, but these are a couple of other brilliant pieces of marketing from Palace: