Big, established brands throughout history have had many things in common that have contributed to their success – superior product quality, efficient distribution systems, and reliable customer service, among others. While these factors play crucial roles in generating profits, what really draws people to brands at an emotional level, however, has less to do with their market value and more with how the brand’s image resonates with their own individual identities. And the ability to resonate with people has helped many a brand in furthering their business; Nike is popular for its athletic, go-to spirit, consumers love Starbucks’ contemporary vibe, and The North Face’s adventurous streak has appealed to thrill seekers worldwide. Achieving consistency in identity while continuing to innovate with their products and services is something brands have prioritized over the years, and it has most certainly worked in their favor.
Given the reputation consistent brand image helps build, it’s interesting when some brands venture outside – even if a little – the scope of their already established identity. And that’s exactly what shoe brand VANS did last week; they launched This Is Off The Wall, their new global campaign. VANS has always been as niche as a brand could be; unlike other major players in the sporting category, VANS has never been a sports brand alone – rather, it has positioned itself as the go-to brand for skateboarding essentials, and its following in the skateboarding community is a testament to how that positioning has worked. Now, as they complete 51 years as a brand, they’re focusing on widening the scope of their branding – and they have good reason to: their customer base has expanded beyond skateboarders, with a turnover crossing $2 billion in 2015. With this new campaign, they’re exploring the evolved meaning of “Off The Wall” – a phrase common to and popularized by skateboarding.
Global brand president Doug Palladini says, “We are no longer just a skateboarding brand. We’ve become a broader lifestyle brand. The phrase I always use is ‘off the wall’ is a state of mind. As the brand that wants to be the global icon of youth culture, we’re very much focused on that powerful point of view that thinking differently and being a true individual is really an important thing to us.”
Tony Alva, Skateboarding legend
To demonstrate the essence of “Off The Wall”, VANS has teamed up with diverse ambassadors from the areas of music, sports, surfing and street art – the very ventures and lifestyles that VANS champions. In a series of 12 short videos, these ambassadors speak of what they do, and how self-expression and individualism is key to their work. This campaign comes on the heels of VANS’ 50th-year celebrations last year with House of Vans; creative spaces were created across the United States where artists and others could gather to skate, display their art, and generally bond over their VANS.
Off the Wall and Into the Streets
This is a landmark campaign for VANS as a brand; not only is it defining what Off The Wall – the phrase that has contributed as much to its success as its products – symbolizes, but also stating how the VANS culture encompasses creative elements beyond skateboarding. Its emphasis on creativity and individualism resonates with the youth in general, and not just skateboarders; in essence, VANS has widened its potential consumer base.
There is a lot communicators and brands can learn from revamped identities such as this. Brands need to, every so often, evaluate if their positioning and messages keep up with the times, with what the people identify with. Consumers’ emotional connect with a brand is what turns them into loyalists and advocates – if they don’t feel a sense of belonging with the brand, they’re not going to stay. Creating that connect will require brands to align their communication in such a way so as to be inclusive and open. The comfort zone is no longer the place to be in for a comfortable equation with consumers. Restricting the brand image to one corner is certainly not beneficial in the long run; like VANS has demonstrated, it’s possible to be a niche brand and still be able to offer something to people they can relate with not just as consumers, but also as individuals.