By Barry Janoff
October 19, 2015: The North Face knows what it's like to climb extremely high mountains, endure frigid temperatures and test the limit of human endurance.
Now they also know what it's like to blaze a new marketing path.
The San Francisco-based retailer, founded in 1968 and acquired by VF Corp. in 2000, last month unveiled its first multi-media, global marketing campaign, came with the umbrella theme, "Never Stop . . ." and enabled people to fill in their own call to action, such as "Never Stop Exploring," "Never Stop Searching" and "Never Stop Dreaming."
According to Todd Spaletto, president of The North Face, the move was a distinct and challenging strategy but important to build the brand worldwide.
"As we’ve seen consumers around the world evolve their priorities in the outdoors and seek out greater challenges and pursuits, from Beijing to Boston, it became clear that we had a relevant global message to share that could impact the way people explore," said Spaletto. "The time was right for our first global campaign. We are building a strategy that can drive our brand for the next five-ten years."
In speaking to consumers, Spaletto said that there is "more segmentation than ever. There are a lot of differences, but there are also of similarities. People want to explore, and that means new places, new foods.
"'Never Stop' can drive our brand strategy for the next five-to-ten years. The market and consumers have changed. The modern outdoor market is faster, younger, more motivated."
Spaletto, who has been with VF Corp. since 1998, has seen significant growth since being named president for North Face in February 2011. "When I joined it was a $200 million company losing $1 million. Now it's a $2 billion-plus company."
According to Spaletto, "For a long time there was an outdoor market and an active lifestyle market, and brands didn't cross from one to the other. But those lines have become blurred, mainly because consumers have changed. The modern outdoor market and consumer is faster, younger and more motivated, and we want to speak to them."
The North Face felt empowered to go big with its first global campaign based on the success of "Your Land," unveiled last October, which at the time was called the biggest campaign in North Face's history; and the follow-up, "I Train For," which hit this past April.
The media spend for "Your Land" "was 50% than anything we had previously spent" on any campaign, according to Spaletto. He said "Never Stop" tops that by another 40%.
The North Face, a division of VF Corp., spent $13 million in the U.S. on media, per research firm Kantar Media, NY.
"We broke 'Your Land' during Sunday Night Football on NBC in 2014 and had great results. A lot of eyeballs with the No. 1 show on TV," said Spaletto. "We followed the same strategy with 'Never Stop.'"
The anchor TV spot of the multi-media campaign hit TV in October and included four consecutive media buys on NBC Sunday Night Football as well as Comedy Central, ESPN, TNT and other sports programming.
"We are an out-of-bound brand," said Spaletto. "We are not on the NFL sidelines, we don't have a deal with the World Cup. That said, the challenge is to get eyeballs and to get people to see and use your products. And we see a lot of opportunity for that.
"'Never Stop' can drive our brand strategy for the next five-to-ten years. The market and consumers have changed. The modern outdoor market is faster, younger, more motivated," he said.
In its first month, "Never Stop" had almost 1.8 million views on YouTube.
Support also includes Internet, social media — "Instagram is our biggest social media tool," said Spaletto, where the company has some 911,000 followers — and POP in The North Face retail locations in Canada, the U.K., Europe and Asia Pacific; as well as such retail partners as Macy's and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Lead agency is Mekanism, New York/San Francisco.
The spot shows people challenging themselves and exploring different part of the world, not just by mountain climbing, snowboarding and sea diving, but also by tasting new foods and visiting new places. It ends with a rallying cry from North Face: "Never Stop . . . searching, pushing, learning, playing, moving, creating, making, climbing, finding, dreaming, jumping."
"'Your Land' was about the destinations. Never Stop is about the people," said Spaletto. "The spirit of 'Never Stop' really defines our brand," said Spaletto. "We are proud of the campaign. But we are prouder of our athletes, and who they are. They go to extreme lengths to test our products, to tell us what is good and to tell us what needs to change. They are the sparks for our solutions."
"Never Stop" comes as The North Face is building an its alliance with the Department of the Interior, launched in 2014, to "protect, preserve and celebrate public lands." Key to that is support of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which includes a $100,000 grant that will be divided among four 21SCS leaders "who embody 'Never Stop' and who are doing extraordinary work in their communities."
It also comes as The North Face is unveiling the next generation in its Summit Series premium line of gear, including base layers, mids, jackets, and shell pants, all made exclusively for climbing. "Summit Series is some super bad-ass stuff," said Spaletto.
"We used to be a brand that spoke to just the hard-core extreme explorers. We haven't forgotten them, but now we're looking at a growing pool of people who wear our products and come to our brand when they go outdoors," said Spaletto.
"We looked at global consumer insights and saw powerful, shared beliefs of people’s drive for excellence and strength," Spaletto said of the strategy behind building a marketing effort that would speak to consumers worldwide. "People want to do something challenging and feel strong doing it. We paired our findings with community-level research to truly understand the nuances and needs of consumers. The result is a spot that connects personally with people around the world in an authentic, rich, and powerful way.
"We used to have T-shirts that read 'The mountain doesn't care' and other really hard-core messages for our hard-core audience. But we started to see more and more people wearing The North Face apparel in the streets, to games, to school," said Spaletto. "So we knew that there was a growing consumer population that was not hard-core explorers but who liked to wear our apparel because it was comfortable or kept them warm in the winter. That was a change for us, it gave us new insights into The North Face brand.
Included on The North Face's roster athlete spokespersons is Jimmy Chin, an experienced climber, mountaineer and skier, who has used his personal experiences to become an award-winning photographer. His directorial debut, Meru, follows the extreme ascent he and fellow mountaineers took on the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru.
Among other accolades, Meru won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
"Jimmy is a perfect example of who we are beyond the name North Face," said Spaletto. "He challenges himself. His photography and and film are not just images. They are real-life. And that's what we want. We want people to get outside, to live a life of exploration. And we want to continue to challenge ourselves to have the best products and most authentic messages, so that when people do explore, they trust North Face to go with them."
Among The North Face athletes featured in the 'Neve Stop' campaign are Paige Claassen (pictured above), Conrad Anker, Xavier de LaRue and Tom Wallisch.
it also features those who explore beyond the land, including deep space and deep sea.
What that coveys to SpaIetto is that "our brand is what it says it is. We are authentic. Our messages are authentic. And I am proud of that.
Looking ahead, how does he see the new campaign building The North Face brand and messages?
"We want to take 50 years of company heritage of exploration and move that forward, speak to the new consumer, the people who wear our product in casual situations and in situations we talk about in our new campaign," said Spaletto. "Exploring new places, new foods, new situations that would not be on the side of a mountain or in a cave in the ice. But also keep our eye on those people who wear our products outdoors under extreme conditions.
"There is a growing pool of people who want to wear our products. More people are connecting with our brand. We want to get them outdoors. That is an important part of our brand strategy. Then they become stewards for the environment. We encourage people to live a life of exploration."
First Global Push For North Face Urges People To Never Stop Exploring, Searching
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