Heavy Hitter Advertising

With skateboarding products available in malls all across the country, the reality of addressing mainstream audiences is growing for many companies in skateboarding. The evidence can be seen on the drive to work or in the living-room chair.

Vans and DC, two of skateboarding’s most prominent shoe manufacturers, are prime examples of companies that have approached a broader market. They’ve tested the mainstream waters by dipping their toes into the pool of big-league advertising via commercials, billboards, and bus benches.


In 2001, DC Shoe Co. decided to step up its marketing strategy through advertising and made a television commercial, perhaps the next step from advertising in skate-video magazines. This commercial, featuring Josh Kalis, played from August through December of 2001. DC has created three commercials so far, which have aired on MTV, ESPN, ESPN2, and Fox News.

Carl Hyndman, then the director of art and advertising at DC, explains why DC began doing commercials: “We realized it was time to move on with our advertising and increase its budget to reach a different audience. Our intent was to support the current audience and expand on it.”

Rowley, Larger Than Life

Similarly, Vans has ventured out into the world of mainstream advertising, also with positive results. Chris Strain, Vans’ vice president of marketing, understands the demand for their product in the mainstream audience: “We want the sport to continue to grow, and exposure to a mainstream audience helps do that.”

Over the past couple of years, Vans has advertised on several different types of outdoor media, from bus benches to subway signs, but perhaps the one ad that Vans is most famous for is its billboard in New York City’s Union Square featuring Vans pro Geoff Rowley.

Is It Really Worthwhile?

When asked about the value of such a marketing campaign, Strain explains the difference between mainstream advertising and ‘core-market advertising: “Outdoor media (such as the Rowley billboard) is not nearly as targeted from a demographic standpoint, but is extremely targeted from a geographic standpoint.” In regard to Vans’ decision to advertise to such a large population, Strain points to growth: “You could say that the print media is a more efficient spend, but we decided on the outdoor campaigns as well. Not only are we trying to reach our core audience, we are trying to make sure we get a reaction from the mainstream audience as well, and outdoor media allows us to do that.”

DC’s Hyndman explains the price tag of a commercial can’t be compared to that of a print ad, either: “Our ad campaigns follow one concept from beginning to end, and that’s also what we’re doing in our commercials. The concepts can, and often do, cross over, so that makes the price a little more comparable.”

Vans’ Strain agrees the concepts carry over to the public, even if they don’t understand the difficulty of frontside flipping over a drainage ditch: “The mainstream is definitely not going to understand it, but we’re going to show it as true as we’re going to show it in the skate mags. It’s usually well-received.”

Like the DC commercials, the Vans billboard and bench ads also ran in all the major skate mags. These advertisements were so effectively covered that most skateboarders, fringe or core, have seen it at least once.

Not only will keeping one campaign for all forms of media save on production, it will reassure the core audience so they don’t feel abandoned. Strain explains: “We feel it is part of our duty to make sure, as we represent them out to the mainstream, that we do it in a light that reflects what the core represents.”

Everyone Wears Shoes

It seems fitting to have skateboarding’s largest enterprise become the pioneer into the advertising frontier. Not only are skate shoes a staple of a skateboarder’s setup, they are big outside the ‘core skate industry as well. While not everyone is going to buy a new board every month, the fact is that everyone wears shoes, skaters and non-skaters alike. It’s the look of skateboarding that’s hot right now, not necessarily the act of it. Skateboarding’s image is a hotter seller than its tricks.

Vans and DC are simply two examples of companies that are growing. They are credible companies, born from skateboarding, and are reaching out to a wider audience. If skateboarding continues to grow, perhaps one day these campaigns won’t be so uncommon. Passing skate billboards on your way to work or seeing a skate commercial sandwiched in between Coke and Pepsi during the Superbowl might not even catch you by surprise.