Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

Sliding Down the Surface of Things

So here’s a campaign which on the surface seems to do what Holt and Cameron, and by extension, myself, advocate in Cultural Branding. The Kiwi skateboard brand Eshe champions a position on an ideological topic, religion, at a level which is relevant to the category and target audience, provocation (skateboarding, which has always attracted the more rebellious among us), while the executions stand out in their utilisation of specific and relevant cultural codes.


This is on the surface, however.

I’m all for taking a position against the dogmas of religion, and I certainly don’t think being a believer should shield one from insult (it seems that hurt feelings is a rather trivial crime compared to the credentials of religion, but that’s another discussion). But it must be done intelligently. Declaring religion to be garbage is merely an adolescent scream for attention. Yes, there has been much focus on the reactions of extremist Muslims to that Youtube film, and yes, we all agree that they’re over the top, but that does not justify the abandonment of reason in favour of provocation for the sake of it. It adds nada to the debate, only fuel to the fire. The client says that “the freedom to provoke is important”, but in this case it’s just rather pointless. A reaction from Muslims or others enables them to play the victim, but their intentions are too transparent to invite sympathy, and besides, since when was being a victim regarded as cool by the kidz?

By taking the easy way out, Eshe underestimates their audience while simultaneously missing out on a great opportunity to approach the topic with wit and intelligence. Irrespective of the gravity of kids’ rebellious itch, it must be based a real frustration; even teenagers have to rationalise their behaviour, and they certainly don’t think of it as rebellion or provokation. I therefore suspect the client is fighting their own fight, not that of their customers, with the right-to-provoke argument.

Religion is surely one of the richest topics of conversation that exist, and it shouldn’t be hard to find something within it that their audience can relate to on a deeper level. Instead of addressing the root cause (creating one’s identity, finding one’s place in society) they attempted to treat the symptom (an urge to rebel); instead of empowering teenagers with the ammunition against their parental oppressors, they committed the cardinal(?) sin of trivialising their frustrations and consequent behaviour.

So the campaign doesn’t get the top score then, but I’d still take it over 90% of ads out there, any day! At least it’s different; at least it’s interesting; at least it’s attempting to lead the way! And they’ve set themselves up nicely to get it right next time.

PS. I wonder whether Gen Y gets the Garbage Gang reference. The cards were popular in Norway in the early nineties, but I’m not sure what the case was in Australia. Apart from that, I love the executions! Which is why I include all of them. Except the Islam one for obvious reasons. As Mumbrella chief Tim said: “some principles are worth fighting for, a crass attention-seeking Kiwi skateboard brand is not“.


PPS. What should they have done instead? See my response to @Jessie under comments.


  • Jessie responded:
    The Garbage Gang were also popular here and I agree, I think it will be lost on the target market. More importantly, what is the connection between religion and skateboards? Are they simply trying to be outrageous for the attention? What do you think their strategy was?
  • Oct 3 2012, 12:40 AM
    Marius Dønnestad responded:
    Hi Jessie!
    Thanks for that! That supports my suspicions that the client and agency are making ads for themselves more than the target market.The question of what the link is is interesting. I’m not sure if there has to be a direct link between reigion and skateboarding, however, there must be at least an ideological link. The rebelious history of skateboarding is how the company justifies the provocation. However, as I argue, this link is too weak. In order to effectively leveraging religion – as opposed to topics more directly relevant such as education or sports culture – they must dig deeper to find whatever connects the dots. For example, religion restricts its members with all its do’s and dont’s. If there’s something the target audience doesn’t like, it’s to be restricted. The brand could champion more freedom for teenagers, and one of the tactics would then be to show how religion restricts our lives. This means freedom, and not the fight against religion, becomes the bigger cause, and this seems to be a more relevant route to take. Champion the unarticulated (or badly articulated) needs of your audience, and you’ll be their best mate. Perhaps their BMFCheers,
  • Oct 4 2012, 11:38 PM
    Jessie responded:
    hmm yes I like you point. Taking it further its true that sport is religion for many people and you can imagine how those imbedded in skateboarding subculture may be attracted to this idea too i.e worship of the board. Im not the target audience (by far!), and Id be keen to know what they think of it.Have a good weekend.J

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This entry was posted on May 26, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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