Friday, February 18, 2011

Two Ads

In the last couple of weeks two ads have appeared, both with essentially the same theme. The first is a short video for Verve made by Carlo Traversi, elite boulderer and routesetter at the Spot, and the other is a co-production of Organic, Pusher and Revolution. (Full Disclosure: I have received gear from both Organic and Verve and am definitely a fan. I am a sponsored climber for Moon Climbing.)

Here's the video:

The Philosophy Of Verve from Carlo Traversi on Vimeo.

Here's the ad, described by Clark Shelk as "The Crampon Ad."

The simultaneous appearance of these ads speaks to a crisis in the climbing industry which is working itself out in various ways. Many people whom I talk with in the climbing industry feel bullish about the prospects of continued substantial growth in climbing. Business plans for new gyms, new companies, and so on are being written in anticipation of better economic climate and a higher profile for climbing.

Yet at the same time, there is unease about what that might mean for smaller companies who focus on creating products that are aimed at a core climbing demographic, products which are easy to copy using inferior materials or at lower cost overseas or both. With a new emphasis on mass enjoyment of climbing, comes the prospect of climbers who are less concerned or have any real knowledge about the quality of their gear. In bouldering this is particularly the case since the possibility of gear failure doesn't automatically imply severe injury or death. Chillingly, we are seeing potentially lethal counterfeit gear bearing a Petzl brand. In clothing, such concerns are even more remote, to say the least.

If climbing is truly poised to become a mainstream sport, it might well have to adopt the rules of mainstream sports marketing and manufacture, which is not necessarily a pretty sight. In mainstream sports marketing, knockoffs are routine, indeed done by top companies themselves to expand the brand. Overseas manufacture is seen as essential by most companies at this point, if for no other reason than to compete with the other companies who do it. A focus on short-term returns, ceaseless production of new product lines and models, and planned obsolescence are all part of this environment.

I have long believed that climbing is a special sport that ultimately fails to conform well to the principles of capitalist practice which so many pastimes have adopted. I think that climbing works best according to a model of respect for the original ideas and innovations of others and trying to avoid a race to the bottom. However it is difficult to see how this attitude can survive in a new climate of expansion and widespread public participation.

Acceptance of a low profile and small market share are too often the price of integrity in any human endeavor. I applaud the two ads and their message but am concerned that ultimately in a "free" market, their net effect will be minimal. They argue for ethical purchasing decisions in an economic climate that has been trending in the opposite direction. However, their basic point is well taken, especially in a sport such as climbing. In climbing itself, reward is a direct reflection of effort and dedication. The same should be true in the industry that serves the sport.


Nate said...

If climbing becomes more mainstream I could foresee the industry becoming similar to bicycles. Cheap, low quality products for those that either aren't willing to pay more or are unaware of the importance of quality. Simultaneously, there will be high quality products made by cottage manufacturers. In some ways this has already occurred. The price differential on shoes, pads, etc. is fairly large in percentage terms. I think the challenge for cottage manufacturers is consumer education. As a climber for 10 years I know that it is worth it to spend the money to get a good bouldering pad but a newbie doesn't.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, this has been happening for a long time. Homegrown brands such as arc teryx (BC) and cloudveil (Jackson Hole) that started out producing in N. America very soon succumbed to pressure to produce overseas. I worked w/a former long time employee of REI. She told me the REI partnered w/arc teryx in the late 90's and that one of the stipulations of the deal was that they increase production and shift it overseas. We've seen CO companies Osprey and Chaco succumb to that pressure as well.

It's heartening to see that Christian is committed to a much more sustainable business model that focuses on quality of product and work environment over profits and perpetual growth. I will definitely buy Verve next time I purchase climbing clothing.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with more people climbing, and as a result gear become less expensive and more accessible to all (myself a new climber). Your fear is not a new one, with many other industries having the same evolution of moving manufacturing overseas (we are all human, even those people over seas). Protectionism is a symptom of insecurity and fear of losing control. Standards will be upheld to manufacturing quality etc. and those inferior products will be shamed and ostracized.

What is your real criticism here, since I am only getting a sense of insecurity and feeling of loss of exclusivity?

Arizona Teacher said...

Like other have said already, this isn't anew trend. Actually, the growth our our sport, will, in the long run, have a more positive impact on product and equipment available. Both Quality and price.

For those in the industry, growth will also mean a better financial reward for the risk they are willing to take. Don't believe this is old, look at the growth of gym across the U.S. over the last two decades.

Personally, I think a bit more capitalism in this industry isn't a bad thing. it will lead to more innovation, a wider variety of gear, and a better understanding of what climbing is by those who don;t climb.

The one area that concerns me with growth is the crags and maintenance of those those crag. As more people enter the sport, more issues will arise, but I also think that with a stronger industry, financial, many of those issues will now have a financial resource to help.

my two cents
A climber climbing in Indonesia

christian / verve said...

firstly i need to say that the 'philosophy of verve' video was never intended as an "ad". it was just something carlo did to document the making of one pair of shorts.. and when he realised he had alot of nice footage he expanded it to what it is now. i never saw the piece til he had uploaded it to the internet.

secondly while i like the revolution /organic pad ad, i feel it is missing the most important point when it comes to why US climbers should go out of thier way to buy american climbing products. and that is when you buy something made here you are supporting an economy that you can affect, and by that i mean, vote, write letters, post online, protest, etc.
when you buy chinese ( in some cases their quality is better) your ablity to Affect what that country does to its people and its enviorment ends at the cash register. Buying chinese you are simple voting "yes", and effectively saying "keep doing what your doing"..
so what are they doing? well they are the world's number one importer of illegally harvested lumber, they strictly monitor the internet and block content availible to thier citizens. they are currently practising a kind of capitalist genocide on the tibetans (keeping only those aspects of the tibetan culture that brings tourism and purging the rest) that reads right out of the days of old west.
and to paraphase a statement made by a chinese economist in the in bejing " people think our products are so cheap because we have inexpensize labour well thats not really why at all, the prices on our goods are so low because we have no enviormental controls"
... and they dont.. 85% of thier forest has been cut down and 70% of thier rivers run with water unfit even for industrial use.
when they want to farm fish they don't do it in the sea.. why? because its too poluted off thier coasts, so they go up into the mountains where there's at least a chance for untainted run-off and dig big holding ponds and raise the fish there. the list goes on and on..
so WTF! what are all these big outdoor companies doing making thier shit there even if it good quality? they are impowering a toxic government to go on distroying the outdoor world and increasingly influencing alot of the third world to do the same. (with all that cash, the chinese are big time lenders and investors overseas now). doesnt it seem ironic that the big players in our industry now are actaully supporting the degradation of something thier primary customer is supposed to love most of all?

But go ahead keep shopping at REI and Wallmart. push your stuffed shopping kart filled with the latest "inovations" into the long line and pretend that you live your consumer life style in a vacuum.
with an atitude like that our rude awakening will come much quicker...but perhaps not while the skies still blue or while there is still fish in the ocean or before we lose the ablity to write comments like this, openly online.

Peter Beal said...

When I wrote the headline, "Two Ads" it was meant to point out that they were more like editorials or political ads. The arguments that Christian makes about foreign manufacture are compelling and accurate. The problem of an influx of new climbers unaware of the deeper issues in climbing and gear is a significant one, especially in a market that leans heavily toward price as the prime factor in making a purchase. Good gear makers need some profit to stay viable. However in this country, actually supporting that idea has fallen by the wayside. The result appears to have been a flooding of markets by manufacturers mostly offering the same things at basically the same price, making money by outsourcing. I would be impressed by the appearance of a significant story in one of the print magazines about the real economic forces affecting the outdoor industry and climbing in particular.

Peter Beal said...

just found this