Are Outdoor Recreation Marketers Lazy? Or Is Branding Just Too Hard?

Trying to make sense out of the lack of branding in the Outdoor Recreation category.

image of Dean Huff, president of Kruskopf and Company

Dean Huff, President

Perhaps this is an example of hurting the ones I love. But I find most branding within the Outdoor Recreation category to be extremely low quality. Maybe there is no need for branding because it’s just too easy to sell outdoor rec products since, by definition, they are for fun.

Take the boating industry. KC was recently asked to evaluate brand strength within one sub-segment. The sad truth: of the double-digit number of products, possibly one was a real brand to which boat owners attributed elements of relevance and differentiation. The rest looked and sounded exactly the same. Show a boat owner almost any logo and there is zero recall of brand values.

It seems there is a lack of effort to build a relevant, unique position in the boat category. Now before you proclaim how important branding is to you, understand that screaming your brand name isn’t BRANDING! This seems to be the general approach as evidenced in a recent edition of Boating magazine where nearly 70% of the ads used their brand name as the headline yet said nothing to differentiate themselves.

The words fun, elegant, redefined, performance, confidence, and control are used repetitively in all ads. While I agree that these are ideas that you want boat buyers to associate with your brand, you cannot own a place in their mind by using the same concepts, in the same way, as your competition. Believe it or not, within four months three different brands used some version of the headline “Make Waves.” Really? One ad simply used the headline: “Powerful. Agile. Responsive.” Oh wait, this was actually for the Parkit360° trailer dolly and they were poking fun at all the boat manufacturers using similar headlines.

So, who was actually communicating effectively? For one, Progressive Insurance. Not only do they use their ever-present spokesperson Flo as a brand reminder, they stake out a position as The Protector with memorable visuals and the line “Every boat needs a protector.” Is it my favorite work in the world of advertising? No. Is it better than anything else in the segment? Yes, by far.

While not branding, another smart campaign is by Boating magazine. Their ads to promote the use of life jackets has headlines based on excuses that downplay the need, then juxtaposes a strong visual and the stark fact that 84% of fatal drowning victims are reported as not wearing a life jacket. Well done, Boating.

Are there any boat manufacturers staking a position for their brand? Yes, but inconsistently. Glastron attempted to position itself as the enthusiast’s brand with a campaign featuring the line “I am not a boater. I am a driver.” This is an interesting position. But sadly, the brand has fallen in the same trap as all others with recent executions screaming “Make it a Glastron Summer.” I do have to give praise to Centurion for creating an interesting visual from within a pipeline-like wave to accompany their claim “If you want the world’s best wave, there is only one choice.”

Branding is simple, but not easy. Know your brand, the category and most importantly what makes your audience tick. Create a position that is relevant to the audience and different from the competition. But if you can’t say something unique, for-the-love-of-the-outdoors please find a unique personality for your brand. Branding is hard because it requires time, energy and honesty with oneself.

P.S. I didn’t mention that every boat ad uses a three-quarters running shot. One manufacturer used seven in one ad.


Dean Huff has a great love for the Outdoor Recreation category and has worked in many segments including shooting sports, gear, footwear, apparel, motorcycles and, yes, boats.