The transformation of outdoor marketing in the apparel and hiking supply sector is a thrilling ride from old-school tactics to cutting-edge digital breakthroughs. Fueled by tech innovations, shifting shopper habits, and a growing demand for tailored efficient advertising, this evolution is reshaping brand promotion.

Using billboards for outdoor brand marketing has existed since the early 19th century. But over time, the advertising industry has evolved, so outdoor marketing companies now have access to a range of solutions that incorporate outdoor advertising with digital marketing strategies, like interactive kiosks and even augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions.

Early 20th Century: The Dawn of Outdoor Advertising

Dawn of Outdoor Advertising

At the start of the 20th century, outdoor brands relied primarily on word-of-mouth and print advertising like newspaper ads and product catalogs. Some of the most memorable campaigns from this era include:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch. Founded in 1892, Abercrombie & Fitch began as an elite outfitter of sporting and excursion goods. In the early 1900s, their advertising was primarily print-based, featuring in magazines and catalogs. These ads highlighted the quality and durability of their products, which are essential for serious outdoor enthusiasts.
  • L.L.Bean. Founded in 1912, L.L.Bean’s early advertising focused on its flagship product, the Maine Hunting Shoe. Their direct-to-customer catalog was revolutionary, featuring detailed product descriptions and testimonials, a precursor to modern content marketing.

Mid-20th Century: Embracing The Great Outdoors

During the second half of the 20th century, advertising companies shifted their approach to promoting outdoor brands to reflect the growing interest in environmental conservation and outdoor recreation. While the focus was still on print media, ads incorporated brand storytelling into their campaigns to connect and engage the audience:

  • The North Face. Founded in 1966, The North Face initially targeted serious climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. Their advertising in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the technical aspects of their products, emphasizing durability and functionality in extreme conditions.
  • Patagonia. Launched in 1973, Patagonia’s early ads in the 1970s and 1980s were notable for their focus on environmental activism. Their catalogs not only showcased products but also contained essays and articles about environmental issues, blending product marketing with advocacy.

Late 20th Century: Adventure And Lifestyle Branding

outdoor marketing agencies

At the end of the 20th century, outdoor marketing agencies shifted their approach to reflect the technological trends and priorities of the era. Outdoor brand marketing was characterized by depicting the outdoors as a lifestyle, emphasizing increased environmental consciousness, and highlighting advancing technologies that allowed brands to manufacture more durable products.

  • REI Cooperative Action Network (1980s-1990s). REI revolutionized its advertising approach, portraying the great outdoors as no longer just the domain of extreme adventurers. They wanted to show that the outdoors was for everyone – a space where every person, regardless of skill level, can connect with nature responsibly and joyfully.  Their campaigns featured everyday people enjoying the outdoors, supporting conservation efforts, and emphasizing the community aspect of outdoor activities.
  • Columbia Sportswear’s “Tough Mothers” Campaign (1980s). This campaign featured the company’s chairwoman, Gert ‘Ma’ Boyle, showcasing the toughness and durability of Columbia’s products. The humorous tone and memorable tagline, “It’s perfect, now make it better,” resonated with a broad audience.

Early 21st Century: Digital Expansion And Social Responsibility

Following the turn of the millennium and the widespread adoption of the internet, most brands, including outdoor companies, began adopting digital marketing. The central theme throughout the 2000s and early 2010s was sustainability, building upon the 90s-era environmental consciousness efforts.

  • The North Face’s “Never Stop Exploring” (2000s). This campaign was instrumental for The North Face’s positioning as a lifestyle brand, appealing to a broader market beyond hardcore adventurers. The “Never Stop Exploring” ads emphasized the joys and benefits of exploring the world, from natural environments to urban zones.
  • Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” Campaign (2011). In a bold move, Patagonia’s Black Friday ad in The New York Times featured a picture of one of their jackets with the title “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” encouraging consumers to consider the environmental impact of their purchases. This campaign was a part of their broader corporate responsibility and sustainability efforts.

Modern Era: Experiential And Influencer Marketing

Modern Era: Experiential And Influencer Marketing

As outdoor brand marketing agencies continued expanding their digital advertising efforts, they began integrating advanced technologies and marketing techniques. Viewers became active participants in these advertising efforts through the rise of influencers and user-generated content and the dominance of social media advertising.

  • GoPro and User-Generated Content. In the 2010s, GoPro revolutionized outdoor advertising by leveraging user-generated content. Customers were encouraged to upload their adventure videos taken with GoPro cameras, turning their customer base into a vast network of brand ambassadors.
  • REI’s #OptOutside Campaign (2015). REI made a bold statement by closing all its stores on Black Friday and paying its employees to spend the day outdoors. The #OptOutside campaign went viral, sparking a movement and earning widespread media coverage.
  • Influencer Collaborations. Modern outdoor brands frequently collaborate with social media influencers and adventure bloggers to reach a wider audience. Influencer content is often perceived as more relatable than celebrities or traditional ads because they share real experiences with the outdoor products they test. The extra layers of authenticity help build trust, driving conversions and strengthening the brand’s reputation.

Transform Your Marketing Strategies

Outdoor brands eager to expand their customer base have consistently leveraged the latest tech innovations in marketing, from billboards to multi-pronged digital campaigns. Beyond deepening ties with current customers, emerging technologies open doors to untapped demographics, unlocking fresh engagement possibilities.

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Ankita Tripathy

Ankita Tripathy loves to write about food and the Hallyu Wave in particular. During her free time, she enjoys looking at the sky or reading books while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Her favourite niches are food, music, lifestyle, travel, and Korean Pop music and drama.

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