Stories in action sports make for "cool" content creation.
Storytelling Content Creation

The Vans Life and Why Content Creation Deserves to Be Cool

As a fan of a sport in which I’ve also competed, I like how running offers something different depending on your point of view. When you’re in it, it’s gratifying; you love the work you put in to be successful. When you watch it, it’s exciting; nothing beats a nail-biter between someone you know and everyone else.

And when you talk about it, it’s cool.

Individualized endeavors like running can carry interest that extends beyond those who participate. They offer something unique to content creation: It’s just plain cool. Brands that are rooted in a specific lifestyle can spread their identity to other audiences by showing its fluency in the one they started with. Even if a new reader doesn’t have personal experience in, say, skateboarding, the stories you might tell exhibit a lifestyle he or she wants to be a part of.

That’s what this final case study is about, and with respect to interests that were founded on flair, nothing’s cooler than action sports.

A Three-Pronged Approach (Part 3)

In my last post, I described how REI embraces the second of these three strategies for expanding an already large clientele:

  1. Grow with your audience.
  2. Forget about the product.
  3. Write to the knowledge.

To prove the last one, we’ll discuss how Vans increases its own following through content that reflects its original commitment to those who need shoes made for four wheels.

Sean Penn wore Vans slip-ons in Fast Times at Ridgemont HighOlder than Angst

Ever since Sean Penn was seen wearing the classic checkered slip-ons in Fast Times at Ridgemont High playing the proud underachiever, Jeff Spicoli, Vans hit the young, rebellious target for which it initially strung its bow. They were a staple of the skate park and, by extension, the fraught adolescent dreamers who populated it.

But just like Penny Arcade Expo, a series of video game festivals, elicits multiple experiences beyond gaming (as explained in an earlier post), the idea of Vans is more valuable than product itself. Tricks became an art form—interpretive dance for punk-rock songs the whole world knew the words to. Skating, then, was no longer just a sport. It was a culture, inviting more than the teenagers who were persistent enough to learn a backside kickflip in an empty parking lot. It represented a variety of common interests—music, fashion, you name it—and when it came to shoes, the Jeff Spicolis of the world had company.

Vans’ Solution

Because “there’s nothing less cool than a sellout” in the eyes of a skater, according to Bustle (and the rest of America), keep in mind some audience expansions aren’t as easy to create content for. To that end, Vans’ best bet was to, in the interest of “being real,” keep skating.

The brand has since erected, using video to champion the stories their core customers spend entire afternoons retelling in the privacy of their own halfpipe. How? A couple of ways, the first of which is dedicated to those who define their investment in Vans with more than a skateboard. Living off the Wall is a documentary series that does just that for individuals across the globe, spotlighting experiences in art and music that show viewers how Vans became an outlet for their creativity, similar to the one skaters have made through skating. From graphic designers in Portland, Oregon to tattoo artists in Seoul, South Korea, it is some of the best branded storytelling out there.

The second way, however, is the parent of the first—skating. Pro skaters like Geoff Rowley, the focus of his own installment on, represent Vans in its truest form by speaking to viewers who are purely and unapologetically a skater audience. Most of its channels now follow professional careers in board sports across the globe. And while this approach to content creation resonates with extreme athletes, it does much more for everyone else: It expresses knowledge, particularly of the pastime that made Vans great in the first place. This loyalty reinforces a lifestyle that transcends how much your readers might lack in practice of the topic you’re covering. In action sports, it makes you cool. In content marketing, that makes you likable and credible.

Corporations are constantly looking for ways to keep up with their core demographics, but the best way to reach them may be to celebrate where the brand began. With that in mind, write to the knowledge of the people who are at the heart of the brand’s cause. And consider this approach alongside the first two steps when communicating with an audience that can spot a poser a mile away.

To keep up with this series, subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter. Interested in content creation that’s “cool” enough for a readership? Join Skyword’s community of storytellers.

Recommended for you