How action sports brands connect their brand to their consumers sub cultures and strive to remain authentic

Quick summary

How do action sports brands remain authentic? Representing dreams, ambitions and truths… that’s a lot of weight a brand must carry if it is to truly connect with something a core group of people care about deeply. In the exciting world of action sports, brands and athletes share a deeper connection than just wallets and logos. It’s a bond forged in adrenaline, shared values, and an intimate understanding of the unique subcultures that drive these sports.

Authenticity in Action

Representing dreams, ambitions and truths… that’s a lot of weight a brand must carry if it is to truly connect with something a core group of people care about deeply. In the exciting world of action sports, brands and athletes share a deeper connection than just wallets and logos. It’s a bond forged in adrenaline, shared values, and an intimate understanding of the unique subcultures that drive these sports. This article explores the delicate dance between action sports brands and their consumers, emphasising the critical role of authenticity. By looking at successful strategies and cautionary tales, we’ll unlock how brands can tap into these subcultures, stay relevant, and avoid the pitfalls of losing their genuine core.

Forget slapping your logo on a board and calling it a day. Action sports brands need to go deeper, to truly understand the heart and soul of the riders they serve. It’s about respect, about appreciating the dedication, the passion, and the raw talent that fuel every trick and line. Brands that get this, the ones who sponsor local events instead of chasing million-dollar sponsorships, the ones who collaborate with artists who truly embody the subculture, those are the brands that win hearts and minds. They’re the ones we wear with pride, because they wear their passion for action sports on their sleeve, not just on a marketing campaign.

As an action sports marketing agency we care about this topic as our managing director has been a surfer, skateboarder and snowboarder his whole life. Not a day he doesn’t come into the office without a recent experience to share, it’s the sharing of these infectious high energy storytelling moments that make action sports so interesting. Let’s remove some of the mystery.

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    Remember when Roxy (or was it Hurley just after Bob offloaded it) started to make doona covers and perfume and anything a teenager would encounter in their day?!  This attempt to “increase their reach” by ditching what their core riders thought about it for a chance to fatten the bottom line? Yeah, that wasn’t pretty. The backlash was swift and merciless, proving that abandoning your roots in the pursuit of fleeting trends or simple greed is a recipe for disaster. Action sports communities are tight-knit and loyal, and they can smell inauthenticity a mile away.

    So, brands or marketers strategising for brands, listen up if you haven’t been already. The secret sauce here is simple: be real. Show that you understand the struggle, the dedication, the thrill of pushing limits on boards or bikes or mountains. Support the grassroots scene, build genuine relationships with the athletes and artists who keep the stoke alive, and remember, they’re not just customers, they’re the lifeblood of this passion-fueled world. Keep it authentic, keep it genuine, and they’re have your back every step of the way. Just don’t be surprised if they hold you accountable for staying true to your roots. Now go out there and participate as it’s the only way you’ll truly understand how dedicated you have to be to become any good at the pursuits your core audience is dedicated to. This is what is needed to be truly part of an action sports community.

    And hey, if any brands are reading this and looking for a passionate, authentic voice to represent their values, well, let’s just say the COG Branding inbox is open.


    The Essence of Connection – Understanding Subculture

    Defining Action Sports Subcultures: Action sports, encompassing disciplines like skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and more, are not just physical activities; they are lifestyles. Within each sport lies a vibrant subculture, a community with its own values, language, and aesthetics. Successful brands delve deep into these subcultures, understanding the nuances that make them unique.

    Shared Values and Identity: The bond between action sports enthusiasts and their chosen brands is often built on shared values. Whether it’s the pursuit of freedom, the thrill of pushing boundaries, or the celebration of individual expression, brands that resonate with these values forge a connection that goes beyond mere product consumption.

    If you’re interested to connect with COG Branding and learn more about how we assist brands, download the guide here and start a new action sports marketing agency relationship.


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    Case Study: Navigating Authenticity – Red Bull’s Stratos Leap

    Red Bull Stratos was a groundbreaking space diving project sponsored by Red Bull, the energy drink company. The mission involved Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner attempting to break the sound barrier in free fall. The project aimed to push the limits of human capabilities and explore the boundaries of space and extreme human endeavours.

    Felix Baumgartner ascended to the stratosphere in a specially designed helium balloon and capsule. Once he reached an altitude of approximately 39,045 meters, he stepped off the capsule and free fell back to Earth. During his descent, he reached a maximum speed of 1,357.6 kilometers per hour, breaking the sound barrier without any assistance from a vehicle.

    The Red Bull Stratos project set several records, including the highest altitude jump, the longest free fall, and the first human to break the sound barrier in free fall. It was a significant achievement in the fields of aerospace engineering, human space exploration, and extreme sports.

    The level of commitment to extreme pursuits to promote brand.

    Visual Storytelling and Risk-Taking: The Red Bull Stratos project serves as a stellar example of authenticity in action. Red Bull didn’t just sell energy drinks; it sold a lifestyle synonymous with risk-taking and pushing limits. The visually stunning content of Felix Baumgartner’s stratospheric freefall not only showcased the thrill of the jump but also communicated Red Bull’s commitment to the very essence of extreme sports.

    Authentic Partnerships: The partnership with Felix Baumgartner wasn’t a mere endorsement; it was a collaboration that exemplified the brand’s commitment to supporting extreme achievements. The authenticity of the athlete-brand partnership resonated with the global audience, creating a lasting impact on the brand’s image.

    Global Event Sponsorship and Engagement: By turning the Stratos project into a global event, live-streamed on platforms like YouTube, Red Bull engaged millions worldwide. The brand’s presence in major action sports events reinforced its commitment to the community, creating an authentic connection that transcended geographic boundaries.

    Case Study: Quiksilver’s Struggle with Brand Authenticity

    The Pitfalls of Straying from Authentic Roots

    Background: Quiksilver, a prominent action sports brand known for its association with surfing and board sports, faced a challenging period when it attempted to expand its customer base beyond its core surfing community. In the pursuit of broader market share and increased product sales, Quiksilver made strategic decisions that deviated from its authentic roots, leading to a loss of brand equity and a disconnect with its core customer group.

    Historical Authenticity: Quiksilver, founded in 1969, had deep roots in the surfing subculture. The brand gained widespread popularity among surfers for its high-quality surfwear, wetsuits, and accessories. Quiksilver wasn’t just a clothing brand; it was a lifestyle brand that embodied the spirit of surf culture. The brand’s success was built on an authentic connection with the surfing community, and its logo became a symbol of credibility within the action sports world.

    Shift Towards Broader Market: In the early 2000s, as the action sports market gained mainstream attention, Quiksilver aimed to capitalise on the growing popularity of board sports beyond the core surfing demographic. The company expanded its product lines to include a broader range of casual wear and accessories, targeting a more general audience. This strategic shift was an attempt to appeal to a wider market and increase overall sales.

    Loss of Core Identity: As Quiksilver diversified its product offerings, the brand began to lose its distinct identity tied to the surfing subculture. The once-authentic connection with core surfers started to erode as the brand’s image became diluted by a more mainstream and less niche approach. The emphasis on fashion-forward casual wear led to concerns among the original core customers that the brand was drifting away from its roots.

    Brand Alienation: The attempt to broaden the customer base resulted in a brand image that felt inauthentic to the core surfing community. Quiksilver’s association with a broader lifestyle market led to alienation among its original customer base, who felt that the brand was no longer catering to their specific needs and values. The shift in focus led to a disconnect, and surfers started turning to other, more authentic brands that remained true to the core surfing ethos.

    Financial Implications: Quiksilver’s deviation from its core identity had significant financial implications. Despite initial hopes for increased sales from a broader customer base, the brand experienced declining sales among its original demographic—the very consumers who had fuelled its success. The attempt to capture a larger market share resulted in a loss of brand loyalty and a decline in overall brand equity.

    Lessons Learned: The Quiksilver case serves as a cautionary tale about the delicate balance between expanding market reach and maintaining authenticity within a subculture. While reaching new audiences is essential for growth, it’s crucial for brands to navigate this expansion without compromising the core identity that initially endeared them to their loyal customer base. The loss of authenticity can lead to a decline in brand equity, trust, and the very essence that made the brand resonate with its audience in the first place.


    Quiksilver’s journey highlights the importance of authenticity in the world of action sports branding. As brands navigate the terrain between niche subcultures and broader market appeal, they must tread carefully to avoid alienating their core audience. The Quiksilver case serves as a reminder that while growth is vital, it should not come at the expense of authenticity—a foundation that, once eroded, is challenging to rebuild.

    How Action Sports Brands can approach their marketing strategies to deliver authenticity to their customers

    Action sports brands typically focus on conveying the adrenaline, skill, and individual expression associated with their products through carefully crafted marketing strategies. Here are some common approaches:

    Visual Storytelling

    Captivating Videos and Imagery: Action sports marketing often relies heavily on visually appealing content, including high-quality videos and images that showcase athletes performing impressive feats. These visuals aim to convey the excitement and intensity of the sports.

    Highlighting Skill and Technique: Brands often feature content that emphasises the technical skills of their athletes. This could include showcasing intricate tricks, manoeuvres, or innovative techniques that highlight the level of mastery associated with the sport and the brand’s products.

    Athlete Endorsements and Partnerships

    Showcasing Athletes as Ambassadors: Brands align themselves with well-known athletes who embody the spirit of the sport. These athletes serve as ambassadors, representing the brand’s values and contributing to its image of adrenaline, skill, and individual expression.

    Collaborations and Signature Products: Collaborations with athletes to create signature products or gear can enhance the brand’s appeal. This not only showcases the athlete’s unique style but also provides consumers with the opportunity to connect with their favourite athletes on a personal level.

    Brand Authenticity and Lifestyle

    Emphasising Authenticity: Action sports brands often strive to maintain an authentic image, aligning themselves with the core values of the sports they represent. Authenticity helps establish a genuine connection with the target audience.

    Promoting the Lifestyle: Beyond the products, brands often market a lifestyle associated with action sports. This can include promoting a sense of freedom, adventure, and self-expression. Marketing materials may feature not only the sports themselves but also the environments and cultures surrounding them.

    Event Sponsorships and Experiences

    Sponsoring Competitions and Events: Brands frequently sponsor major competitions and events within the action sports community. This involvement helps them connect with their target audience and reinforces their commitment to the sport.

    Creating Interactive Experiences: Some brands focus on creating interactive experiences, such as virtual reality content or immersive events, allowing consumers to engage more deeply with the brand and the sports it represents.

    Social Media Engagement

    Community Building: Action sports brands often leverage social media to build communities around their products. They encourage user-generated content, sharing videos and images submitted by enthusiasts, thereby fostering a sense of community and shared passion.

    Real-Time Updates: Social media provides a platform for real-time updates on events, athlete performances, and product releases. This immediacy helps maintain audience engagement and excitement.

    By combining these elements in their marketing strategies, action sports brands aim to communicate the exhilarating, skillful, and individualistic nature of their products and the sports they represent.

    Forging the Future Through Authentic Connections

    In the world of action sports, the heartbeat of a brand lies in its ability to authentically connect with subcultures. Red Bull’s Stratos leap and the saga of Quiksilver trying to be everything to everyone serve as beacons, illustrating the power of authenticity in building lasting relationships.

    As brands navigate the exhilarating terrain of action sports, they must tread carefully, understanding that the line between genuine connection and corporate appropriation is as thin as a skateboard deck. In cultivating authenticity, brands not only remain relevant but also become integral components of the subcultures that define the very spirit of action sports.

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      Leadership And Experience

      COG Branding is led by Luke Sullivan. A dynamic Sydney-born professional with a diverse design and marketing career. Luke leads the Sydney marketing agency as a knowledgeable and dynamic captain at the helm. With professional experience with the action sports, Lukes’ leadership at COG Branding is brand aware and business considerate, which ensures that all brand and marketing briefs big and small, are driven through to commercial success.

      The benefit of having a Managing Director with professional hands-on-the-tools experience from a marketing standpoint but also board sports experience ensures the transfer of real working knowledge throughout the agency. It also offers the COG Branding service offering great depth and an honest transparent value to action sports brands.

      Action Sports brands can unlock great value from our marketing agency in Sydney by asking the right questions, fostering a positive working relationship, and seeking a partner who envisions their success. Together, we’ll create a powerful brand that paves the way for a prosperous future. Let’s embark on this exciting journey, hand in hand!


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      Luke Sullivan

      Luke Sullivan is a brand marketing expert that specialises in a small business. Active as the COG Branding Managing, you can reach Luke Sullivan on his LinkedIn profile.

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