Snowboard companies use images of women to reach customers
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Grand County, CO Colorado
DENVER – SnowSports Industries America moved its huge annual trade show to Denver this January, after holding the event in Las Vegas for the previous 37 years. But the atmosphere this past weekend inside parts of the Colorado Convention Center suggested the show is feeling a little homesick for Sin City.
Scantily clad young women wound through a colossal maze of booths showcasing more than 1,000 brands’ 2010-2011 ski and snowboard gear and apparel. Female models in showgirl costumes and very abbreviated versions of flight attendant and cop uniforms lured 20- and 30-something skiers and riders to check out the latest trends in snowboards, headphones and bindings. Drawings and photographs of nude women adorned snowboards, skis, posters and stickers. There was even a special appearance by Pamela Anderson, who at 43 is on her own snowboard this year – in bra and panties.
A way to stand out
Sex wasn’t the overriding motif at the retail snowsports bonanza, but in certain pockets it was a blatant marketing strategy, especially palpable among smallish snowboard companies. But even at the enormous booth that housed Burton, a long-established leader in snowboard manufacturing, there were women in fish-net stockings who would have been very, very cold anywhere near snow.
Forum Snowboarding revealed a new urban jib board on which customers can choose to have “sex,” “drugs,” “rock,” or “roll” in large white letters on the base of the board. The top side of the “sex” board features a black-and-white Studio 54 photograph of two women, one of whom is wearing a lingerie top that reveals much of her breasts.
“The designer thought it would be really funny if you saw ‘sex’ flying above you on the chairlift,” said Doug Olsen, Forum account manager. “Usually the snowboard community is a lot more accepting of stuff like this. People are really talking about us, and the way we view it, publicity is publicity.”
Nearby, Gnu Snowboards displayed a larger-than-life poster of a woman in a lace bodysuit, bending over, with her bottom facing the viewer. Text on the poster, which promoted a new “easy-in, easy-out” binding, urged riders to “Try the backdoor!”
“These are snowboarders, so you’re looking primarily at young males,” said Tom Reichert, a communication professor at the University of Georgia and author of The Erotic History of Advertising. “There’s research showing that in advertising to young adults, versus older adults, you’re more likely to see sexual content. One reason is hormonal – they’re probably at their peak in terms of testosterone. They’re very tuned in to sexual information, especially of the opposite sex.”
According to Reichert, social factors also figure in. The majority of men in the target age-group are single – putting dating, relationships and sex high on their list of priorities.
“(These companies) are right-on in terms of trying to appeal to this target audience. They’re not as tapped in to the social consciousness of older adults,” he said.
‘We’ll sell a crap-load’
Nidecker, a Swiss snowboard manufacturer, is putting the strategy to use in efforts to expand its U.S. market share. The top-sheet of one of its new snowboards is adorned with one of two libertine photographs of Pamela Anderson, from head to mid-thigh. One version features Anderson in lingerie, the other in a white T-shirt and no pants.
A pro-athlete endorsement was too expensive for the company, but it needed to come up with a way to draw attention to the brand, according to Nidecker’s Nick Boville,
“I guarantee you we’ll sell a crap-load of these to guys in their 20s and early 30s because Pamela Anderson’s picture is on it,” Boville said.
Vermont-based snowboarder Parker Fothergill was enthusiastic about the idea of strapping his feet astride Anderson’s image.
“I think it’s sick,” Anderson said (as in the good “sick”), amid a crowd of hundreds of men and few dozen women hoping to catch a glimpse of Anderson during her appearance at the Nidecker booth Friday. “Get me one, and I’ll do a 1080 on it. I will rep that snowboard with tender loving care. She’s a household name and a beautiful woman.”
According to Reichert, exposure to such imagery can impact the way men think about women, making sexually related features of real women more salient.
“I don’t think it has any positive social effect. From a marketing standpoint, is it smart? Yes. Is it socially responsible? Probably not,” Reichert said.
One of the reasons small snowboard companies are able to push the envelope in the lascivious direction is that they cater to a subculture and don’t have the broad exposure of a company whose products serve a broader cross-section of the population, Reichert said.
“Marketers in those arenas can get away with more egregious examples of nudity and more sexist presentations,” he added.
For example, sexually charged imagery was absent in the booth that housed K2, one of the world’s largest ski and snowboard manufacturers.
“Women represent a significant part of our global sales,” said K2 vice president of global marketing Jeff Mechura. “This year, 40 percent of our volume is women’s products. We were the first company to specifically target the women’s market with its own line – not just a women’s version of a men’s ski.”
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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