Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Maddo's Pipe Dream is the stuff of nightmares for race team sponsorship managers

 Reproduced from Indistincly Wild
A couple of days ago, Nzuma Nfoso — an Ubuntu tribesman in a disputed border region in Central West Africa -- became the last person on earth to watch Robbie Maddison "surfing" on a modified motorcycle, near Tahiti.

This Masai tribesman is not Nzuma Nfoso. He lives about as close to Nfoso as Regina, Saskatchewan is to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Besides, this guy's got a cell phone; he probably saw Pipe Dream in the first 12 hours it was up.
"That looks like a nice forest," said Nfoso, who his friends call 'the nose'. "I guess he's probably scaring all the animals, eh? It must be noisy. What brand is that motorcycle, anyway? I can't tell."

We froze a frame and ID'd it as a KTM two-stroke, but beyond that I couldn't help him.

"Wow, look at all that water," The Nose said, as the short movie segued into the surfing scene. "I've heard of the ocean, but this is the first time I've ever seen it."

Nfoso was fascinated by the surfers he saw in the background of "Pipe Dream", and I spent quite a bit of time explaining what surfing was. He thought that sounded quite a bit cooler than riding a motorcycle on the water.

"I mean, I have nothing against motorcycles," he assured us through a translator. "When we needed to get sleeping sickness medicine to my village after the rains, a motorcycle was the only way to transport it.

We explained that the water-bike was developed expressly to make this movie, which baffled him. 

"Does DC Shoes make shoes for surfing?” the African asked.

“No. In fact, almost everyone surfs barefoot.”

“Motorcycle boots?”

“Not that I know of.”

At that point, he proudly displayed a set of bright pink Crocs that some American had, years ago, dropped in a donation bin in a suburban parking lot. Eventually they made their way to Africa in a giant container, along with the ‘Affliction’ t-shirt he was wearing. 

“This t-shirt is crap,” he said. “But why anyone needs more than one pair of shoes is unfathomable. And these ones have not worn one bit in the last five years.”

We thanked him for his time.

“Sure, brah,” he said. “Well, I’d better get going. Hope to find a nice snake or rat for the little woman’s pot. Got to be quiet! Lucky no motorcycles in here.” He cocked an eyebrow, flared his nostrils, and disappeared quietly down a game trail.

By now, as that story reprinted from Indifferently Wild makes clear, at this point, everyone on earth has seen DC Shoes’ branded-content exercise Pipe Dream.

What’s less clear, of course, is how many people — if any — will now buy DC Shoes as a result of watching it. You see, while these viral programs are far easier to track than old-school mass-media ad campaigns, it remains quite a bit harder to quantify their impact on sales. In fact, the so-called Millennial Generation that this campaign targets don’t really spend their money on much of anything. (In that way, white American Millennials do have one thing in common with Nzuma Nfoso.)

As a once-and-still-sometimes ad guy, I can’t help but worry about the impact that a shift from paid media to branded content will have on my industry. But as an ex-motorcycle racer I can tell you there’s no doubt at all about the effect such content will have on professional motorcycle racing.

It’s the worst thing ever.

On the face of it, you’d think the rise of branded content would be an additional sales pitch for teams seeking sponsors: “You get access to a bunch of great content,” a team or racer could claim.

But what brands are actually learning is, they can eliminate the racer-middleman and go straight to YouTube, without pausing on the MotoAmerica, Supercross, SBK, or MotoGP grid. AMA Pro flat track? Hah!

Get this straight: It doesn’t matter one whit whether Robbie Madison’s lame stunt actually sells shoes. It doesn’t matter that that noisy, wasteful, no-talent (except for the engineers who designed the system) demonstration only served to irritate a few dozen surfers who actually were doing something pretty cool. Because YouTube views are the new sales, as far as dazzled Millennial marketing executives are concerned.

For whatever that cost DC Shoes — and I guess it was quite a bit, because there are about 24 names on the credit roll, and another 20 or so listed as “water & safety” — DC just scored a bigger win than they would’ve got if they’d outbid Monster Energy for Valentino Rossi’s title sponsorship, which would have cost them an order of magnitude more.

And, not only that, Maddo’s stunt was no risk... to DC Shoes. If it had failed, or gone bad, they might’ve cut together a Jackass style blooper reel, but there was no risk at all of their rider being beaten in public; no risk of an embarrassing breakdown; no risk of a late-season choke. Because there were essentially no witnesses to it, until after it had gone according to plan.

You know, during the tobacco-money-crazed heyday of motorsports sponsorship, series and some riders had their own cachet. Brands wanted their logos emblazoned on Ayrton Senna’s car because they gained something by association. But Robbie Maddison is his YouTube view count. That would worry me if I was DC’s brand manager, but like I said, views and viral propagation are the new money in marketing. These days, a sponsorship ‘win’ doesn’t look like picking a great young rider and grooming him, sticking with him through the ups and downs, and being associated with him while he proves his mettle to the audience of devoted racing fans. Winning doesn’t look like your brand being permanently associated with a sports legend. Nor does winning look like sharing the limelight with other brands on your rider's fairing and leathers, or with event sponsors. Nope, winning looks like being the one and only brand featured in your little movie.

It doesn't matter, either, that most of Rossi's or Marquez' fans can tell you what brand of motorcycle he's riding. It doesn't matter that none of the people watching Pipe Dream will have seen even one frame of video that describes any functional benefit of DC shoes. It doesn't matter that the video doesn't provide a single argument, either logical — or emotional, beyond "they once bankrolled a cool stunt" — for DC over Adidas or even Crocs.

Winning is 10 million YouTube views in a few days. That old way, that’s on life support now. How do you think Marlboro feels about the tens of millions they spent on Michael Schumacher? Their brand’s now associated with a vegetable. That’s even sadder because Schuey was, perhaps, injured by a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet. I guess even he wanted to be a YouTube star.

In another irony, ‘Creativity‘ — a website read by ad industry insiders — mistakenly described Maddison as a ‘motocross star’. Sorry, Creativity; DC and Maddo skipped the long, arduous path to fame that winds through the race tracks of the world.

Don’t get me wrong here, all of the following points are true...
  • The Pipe Dream stunt was lame
  • Robbie Maddison’s done stunts that would scare me to death — just before they actually killed me to death
  • More power to Maddo if DC paid him a fortune to do something I could’ve done.
But if all that brands want from a marketing spend is YouTube views, they’re wasting money on race teams, title and personal sponsors.

The massive viral success of Pipe Dream is another nail in the coffin of racing sponsorships. 

UPDATE: ADWEEK rated Pipe Dream the #1 most watched ad—their word, not mine—in August. 


  1. DC Shoes, like many brands that market to skateboarders (and surfers and skiers, and rock climbers) has a long history of sponsoring athletes outside of traditional competition. Fans of these sports expect to see their athletes perform in magazines and videos. That's been so since VHS days.

    DC Shoes are also on Ken Block's racing car, even though his Gymkana videos get them more exposure than racing: correct?

  2. I think that this is just an expected change for a skate-shoe brand. The industry went from VHS to DVD to YouTube. Sponsoring stunts on video _is_ a traditional form of marketing for products sold to skateboarders, and people that wish they were skateboarders.

    I wish that everyone appreciated motorsports. Most of us drive cars or ride motorcycles, but few of us played football. Why exactly is football so big, but motorsports always struggling? I don't get it.