How Skateboarding Mastered Marketing To An Anti-media Audience

I grew up skateboarding throughout the early 2000’s, without a clear understanding of why I loved it, but simply that if I didn’t do it every day, I’d be downright miserable.

Infatuated, love-struck, obsessed, however you want to put it, it embodied every fiber of my soul for over 10 years.

What’s more, I not only still love it as a distant admirer, but am in awe of it’s incredible marketing ability through sponsored athletes, video content, and its commanding ability to harness content marketing.

So how does skateboarding steal the marketing show?

To explain that, we have to begin with our 1st ironic fact: skateboarding is by nature, anti-establishment and anti-media.

So don’t bother selling through a billboard, newspaper ad, or a persuasive salesmen at your skate shop. Hell no.

Hence, companies had no choice but to embody a more passive, subconscious approach.

That brings us to our 2nd ironic fact: although anti-establishment and highly independent (a new skater spends hours learning 1 trick, often alone in a garage or drive way), skateboarding is a surprisingly close-knit, community driven sport.

This leads us to the ideal, subconscious marketing approach: content marketing paired with influencers.

Let me explain.

Skateboarding brands lean heavily into their skate teams, bringing together the most talented skaters possible, while providing a modest form of sponsorship.

By giving them merchandise (i.e. a skateboard every month, pair of shoes every 6 weeks), they hold them to a loose agreement that they’d 1) rep the respective merchandise (because if they got it for free, why wouldn’t they?) and 2) occasionally film some tricks.

No big deal.

To expand on the latter half, they’d be encouraged to film with the team’s camera guy and skate at demos at local skateparks. In short, 1) gathering video content and 2) acting as a micro-influencer for the brand.

Multiply this by 10 or 15 skaters, all often skating with each other, and you can imagine the flurry of content that they all generate.

Skate videos, the culmination of this footage, has been skateboarding’s ultimate show of talent, long anticipated by younger skateboarder like a soon-to-be released Star Wars film.

If you had an incredible part, you’d be recognized and admired. And in a small, intimate community like skateboarding, this mattered a lot. If you’re recognized, your value goes up and you gain more respective.

And if you’re recognized and admired, the same qualities might rub onto the brand that sponsored you, setting the stage for a well-oiled flywheel.

After all, if younger skaters admire you, would it be a crime if they wanted to dress like you or skate the same board?

And ta da. The younger skaters might go into the local skate shop and get the DC shoes of their favorite pro, paired with the same board of that up-&-coming amateur who did that demo at their skatepark last month.

Who knows, that young skater might in turn become a sponsored skater, make a video part, and have the same influence as their childhood skate idol had on them.

And the flywheel spins, for generations to come.

All that said, you can imagine the incredible power of this approach. Skateboarding is a pioneer in fundamental content marketing: providing value 1st, without asking for anything in return.

By doing so, skateboard brands start a relationship with every person they touch. Monthly, weekly, or daily, they release content, because they want to build their own community. It’s as simple as that.

Think of the fitness influencer who posts 40 videos in 6 months, rarely asking for you to do more than to subscribe to their YouTube channel. Or the Internet Marketer who provides an e-book, if you sign up for their mailing list (where by doing so, you’ll get even more content in the future).

Content marketing was not born from an academic textbook, but from the proven, innovate approach that skateboard brands had no choice but to take.

So what can you learn from this? I believe 3 things:

  1. Provide value without expecting anything in return. Start a newsletter, write a monthly blog article (that’s me), start a podcast. If you have something valuable to share, for Pete’s sake, share it without expecting to make anything in return
  2. Seek to understand your audience. Skate brands wouldn’t have the success that they did, if they hadn’t identified the counter-culture nature of skaters and in turn taken a “backdoor” content approach
  3. Build a personal flywheel. Success does not happen in 1 fell swoop, but turn by turn, 1 thing leading to the next, all while building momentum. What flywheel could you create, where 1 thing leads to the next? A referral marketing program where you pay current customers to refer a friend? A user-generated blog where the previous writer runs a paid ad campaign driving people to the current writer’s article, creating a pay-it-forward cycle of growth?

What’d you think of this article? Do you know of other sports or industries that leveraged their own marketing approach to appeal to their audience? Share below!

~JK

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