On July 24, 2013, a day before the Agenda fashion trade show in Long Beach, CA, a core group of industry leaders, marketers, brand strategists, and presenters gathered for the 4th annual ASC Action Sports + Culture 2013 conference at the convention center’s conference theater, host to the legendary TED conference.
Launched by Group Y, the original collective of youth marketing, action sports and entertainment professionals, in conjunction with Agenda, the day plunged into a series of speakers and networking, based on the theme, “Authenticity is Everything.” In the world of action sports and youth culture, authenticity is the key ingredient and without it, brands quickly fade and die. But how does one achieve this and where does it come from? Most of us know it stems from believing what you’re doing and having a passion for your product, but the sustainability of a brand’s success is vital towards maintaining and establishing authenticity and cred with the ever-changing marketplace.
In our world of Label Networks, we hope to provide the tools for brands seeking authenticity via consumer insights and intelligence towards staying ahead of the changes within the marketplace itself. We also launched “The Future Consumer Reports” series on youth culture insights on T-shirts, Denim, Accessories, Footwear, and Action Sports Apparel in conjunction with the launch of the ASC conference and Agenda trade show (Group Y attendees are provided a discount).
The speakers selected for the conference were leaders on authenticity and were selected from a wide range of backgrounds which provided an excellent cross-over of how various brands, publishers, non-profits, and others have made an impact in today’s society and created successful strategies despite today’s economic challenges. Hosted and moderated by Pat Parnell, Sports Broadcast Journalist (NBC, Fuel, ASP), he was able to pull-out the key points and keep the conversation moving forward with insightful comments and questions, which only comes from an experienced insider of the scene.
First-up was Grind Media’s Norb Garret, the SVP and Group Publisher, which many of us were curious to hear since Grind Media recently acquired Transworld Publishing and had just closed TWS Surf magazine. But the brand is on a role with a multiple of successful publishing platforms ranging from their popular videos, to print, tablets, and mobile.
Garret, who also shared the stage later with another content publisher, the President of Alli Sports/NBC Sports, Eric Grilly, which provided 2 distinct sides of the coin: Grind being business-to-consumer media and Alli representing business-to-business.
Garret pointed out the importance of consistency and understanding opportunities and the evolution of the culture. He defined movements such as life before tablets and life after tablets meaning that the latest platforms have changed the game of publishing, and yet print still has a place in this world. But because of the range of different media platforms, they’ve been able to gain fans from a global stage, including the latest that he’s realized which are passionate fans of snowboarding from Lebanon.
Grilly introduced how they build experiences for brands such as Red Bull and Mt. Dew through events such as the Dew Tour and others.
A big questions Parnell asked both was about their thoughts on action sports such as skateboarding and surfing becoming Olympic events. Both believed it would be good because it would raise the level of the sport to a global audience. But yet as we all know only too well, the IOC and Olympics in general are woefully behind and are not known for listening to consumer perspectives to the detriment of the Games.
Steve Larosilliere, Founder and President of STOKED, which mentors at-risk kids and introduces them to action sports gave an inspiring presentation on authenticity and proved that the “opportunity gap” between rich and poor kids could be leaped through action sports specifically. “We all know that there is so much more than we learn when strapping in a [snow]board to our feet,” said Larosilliere. “We learn something new, we’re empowered with this new skill of snowboarding and all that brings—the confidence.”
STOKED is about as authentic as it gets when it comes to non-profits and they have expanded into offering 4-year programs to bring their kids (mentees) from start to finish, even through college, to getting their first job. Now with 3,000 kids, they have had 100% graduation rates. “Authenticity creates opportunities, but it takes working with young people—it takes human capital, social capital, and enrichment,” said Larosilliere.
Shawn Neff, CEO and Founder the “Forever Fun” themed/streetwear/action sports brand clearly figured out where opportunity was at. Starting during his college days, he realized his friends who were pro snowboarders didn’t have contracts for headgear, so we began creating Neff headbands and beanies. The brand is now among the favorites among youth culture and not just for headgear, but T-shirts and other accessories as well, which we can attest to in our Youth Culture Studies at Label Networks. His theory of authenticity and success is to get your brand on the most authentic and highly regarded athletes and musicians you can to help create the cred you need.
For example, Neff knows music and knew right away that Snoop Dog would be a great fit for his brand years ago. “You can’t hate on Snoop, he’s an O.G. We knew we had to sign him,” stated Neff. From there, they saw EDM coming down the pipe as a transplant from Europe and signed on Deadmau5.
Neff also has the ability to see which athletes in action sports are on the cusp to stardom as well and the crossover brings the brand into several different worlds. But he’s fast to say he doesn’t stray to what he doesn’t’ really like and isn’t authentic to the brand, such as Ultimate Fighting, even though there was an opportunity to jump on that bandwagon also.
Neff also knows his research and said a brand has to be on top of the changing marketplace and their needs and keep track all the time. But coming from the perception of fun provides them with the opportunity to expand the boundaries, get wild with colors, scare-up the status quo and do what they need to do.
Sol Republic’s Seth Combs, Co-Founder and CMO, kept his presentation short and sweet and straight to the point of how their designer headphone brand went international in a year. With the strategy “Soundtrack of Life” and concept of creating “soldiers” who commandeered the brand, they created such loyalty that people are getting the Sol (Soundtrack of Life) Republic logos tattooed on their bodies.
“There is a genuine necessity to know the truth of the brand and what it means. And there are two universal languages: mathematics and music,” stated Combs. Music, clearly, is the path they chose and by getting their headphones and messaging out to the world, often through top DJ’s like Steve Aoki, all the way to top athletes like Michael Phelps, they’ve exploded.
“It’s important to think of it as one unit—creating that unique experience—rather than just trying to sell a million units. It’s one step at a time.”
Combs wrapped up his presentation with a powerful recommendation: “Understand what you stand for, write it down, share it, and try to live by it.”
Brian Socolow, a lawyer from Loeb & Loeb, took a turn into the importance and logistics of brand protection. His firm represents many top brands in action sports and youth culture so getting his insights on trademark issues, copyrights, and intellectual property were key to understand, especially for up-and-coming brands.
YouTube’s Derek Callow, Director of Global Partner Marketing, spoke about authenticity in the “participation age” in that there’s a “new normal” thanks to the advent of YouTube where anyone can post content. It’s change the game for entertainment and advertising and it’s time to think of ads or marketing as entertaining content also. “Social currency is coming in through sharing,” said Callow. “65% of this audience updates their profiles daily. Authenticity in our view is talent over famous.” With YouTube (and he provided several clips to emphasize his point), more people can see those who are truly talented. It provides a platform for talent rather than simply a platform for those who are famous.
“It’s the quality of the story vs. the quality of the production,” said Callow.
Ricardo Crespo, the former creative director of Mattel, and former creative for 20th Century talked about the importance of resonating. Not only with your potential marketplace, but personally, within your workspace, with your colleagues, your boss.
“Your default mechanism is actually your DNA. Exceptional people tell you why they are, not who they are…” Important take-aways from his presentation had to do with personal achievements, figuring out how to explain yourself in 7 words and the challenges that can create. But also the focus, direction, and therefore path of decision-making. In the end, he demonstrated, it’s important not to live in the same track with the same predictable songs, but to live life on “shuffle mode.”
Overall, it was a full day of a variety of insights, an excellent lunch, and of course, in proper Group Y fashion, an open bar and networking at the end. And that’s what people were there for just as much as anything else, because it’s at this type of conference where you can meet a cross-section of people who mostly have something to offer as long as you’re open to listening and taping into the ideas that can come from inspired conversation.
The ASC Conference was followed up later, at the end of Agenda, with the premiere of “AGENDA Emerge” powered by Group Y on Friday, July 26 from 6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. featuring Marc Ecko, Bobby Hundreds, Jeff Staple, and Johnny Cupcakes . AGENDA Emerge attracted more than 500 people from the streetwear and action sports industries and was also highly successful.