North Face Shows Prettier Side Of Extreme Sports

DDB Seattle’s first work for North Face, a label as likely to be spotted at an urban bistro as on a mountaintop, is an effort to retain the brand’s authority with the extreme-sports set while still appealing to trend followers.

Seventeen print and outdoor executions feature beauty shots of outdoor adventurers well known to enthusiasts.

In one, skier Will Burks vaults over a boulder-strewn chasm; in another, the line “Newton was a pessimist” is paired with a shot of rock climbers Kevin Thaw and Cedar Wright scaling the Hand of Fatima in the Mali desert; in a third execution, Wright hangs over a river in Argentina, suspended from a steel cable. “It is a marriage in which the knot is tied with excruciating care,” reads an ad that shows two alpine climbers linked by a rope.

The campaign breaks next week in the July/August issue of Backpacker. Ads will also run in the more general-market Outside, as well as a range of specialized titles, including Rock & Ice, Freeskier, Backcountry and Dandelion.

“It’s a delicate line to walk,” said ecd and art director Fred Hammerquist, noting that the maker of expeditionary gear is careful about how it is “popularized” lest core users get alienated. Hammerquist, an alpine climber and triathlete, handled North Face for five years in the mid-’90s via his shop Hammerquist & Saffel.

The San Leandro, Calif.-based retailer’s most recent ads, from Publicis and Hal Riney in San Francisco, paired more straightforward product shots with variations of the brand’s longtime motto, “Never stop exploring.” Riney landed the $2 million account in 2002 after a review in which Publicis Groupe’s DDB was a finalist. North Face split with Riney in April, citing “creative differences.”

“The creative we’ve been looking for gets back to talking to our core customers, the active outdoor target that ranges from enthusiast to professional athlete,” said Todd Yates, North Face’s vp of marketing and development.

Yates said he asked DDB to “show the product in use, feature our athletes and use compelling photography.”

The strategy addresses a challenge faced by all brands positioned as elite: sustaining the value, said Candace Corlett, partner at retail and marketing consultancy WSL Strategic Retail. The solution requires “translating to much more than functionality—if people were just looking for functional, they’d buy L.L. Bean or Lands’ End,” she said. “North End represents an investment in cachet. To sustain that cachet requires a combination of function and emotion.”