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SANTA CRUZ – Catching a swelling interest in wakeboarding and cable parks, O’Neill’s Wetsuits has launched the Freak Show, an edgy, kind of wacky, marketing push featuring sponsored athletes as outlaw characters riding fire-snorting dwarfed horses, resting their feet on a glowing skull-stool and tossing lightning from palm to palm.
The company’s latest colorful pitch – the Freak Show – has been beckoning customers to a new online microsite featuring waterskiing and wakeboarding apparel including US Coast Guard-approved and competition gear.
“Cable parks are popping up everywhere,” said Brian Kilpatrick, a 13-year marketing veteran with the surfing gear and apparel company. Although not promising to veer from its roots in the surf world, O’Neill is definitely interested in staying competitive in the wakeboarding market. “That seems to be the direction for significant expansion.”
Cable wake parks use overhead cables instead of boats to pull waterskiers or wakeboarders across the water.
Wakeboarding, formerly known as skurfing, a creative evolution of surfing, skiing and snowboarding, is one of the biggest sports-related phenomena of the last decade, attracting nearly 4 million participants last year, according to the USA Wakeboard, a nonprofit organization promoting the water sport in the U.S. There are now hundreds of cable parks, in Europe, Asia and the U.S. that offer cable rides.
Growth in the wake market has been challenging in the depressed economy, however. High fuel costs have cut into the boating industry. O’Neill’s has tried to be flexible by focusing on the growing popularity of wake boarding and branching into the wake skating market, Kilpatrick said.
The old-fashioned carnival-like imagery of Freak Show builds on the personalities of sponsored riders such as Aaron Reed, Scott Byerly and Collin Harrington. It’s a natural progression for O’Neill, stemming from a long history of pushing the creative envelope, Kilpatrick said.
“It’s different from anything you’re going to see in the magazines,” Kilpatrick said. “It attaches the rider’s personality to each product. Feature/benefits are called out using side show carnival verbiage. It’s loose. It’s fun. The product looks great and it’s got stopping power. Attention spans are short these days. You can find something new every time you look at it.”
Kilpatrick, whose other notable ad sprays include campaigns such as In It for Life, Sanity is Overrated/Keep Your Screws Loose, and Don’t Get Burned (skin cancer) as well as the alien abduction related – Take Me to Your Leader – said he’d kept the concept in his pocket for several years before sensing the time was right to pitch it.
“Pitching a concept to kids who, by nature, are relatively cynical can be daunting,” Kilpatrick said, noting that he was glad he could tout some wins in his portfolio to gain credibility.
The campaign, photographed in Western Oz and Tasmania, involved tribulations of cold, unforgiving environments where cell phone and Internet service was just a dream. “They loved it and performed like method actors getting into character and adding an element of depth and personality that only Team O’Neill could bring to the table.”
This article first appeared here.