Harty muses on the past and present strength of brand loyalty in windsurfing.
A recent humorous telly advert featured a man in a photographic shop. He points to the camera he desires. The salesman congratulates him on his choice … but adds: “Is sir aware that this model here, a lesser known make I admit, has a much bigger sensor and is £50 cheaper with a lifetime guarantee?”
“Thanks but I’ll stick with my original choice.” Replies the customer.
“… Even though this one has also got a more powerful zoom sir?” continues the salesman to no avail.
Cut to man with his new camera taking pictures of his daughter on a playground swing. Lacking a zoom, he creeps closer and closer until she swings down and kicks him in the groin.
My friend Pauline has a 1960s VW Combi, upon which over a decade she has lavished at least £60,000. The argument that with the same money she could have bought a brand new California camper with all sorts of mod cons like an engine that starts, a roof that doesn’t leak and a heater, falls on completely deaf ears. In her mind this collection of patched up panels (very few of which are original) is connected to her very soul. It’s a strong and reliable friend – even though she has been towed to more places than she’s driven to.
The two stories seem similar – they’re surely about misplaced loyalty to a flawed inanimate object or brand – but they aren’t. In the first the man with the aching jewels made an illogical decision in the face of overwhelming factual evidence. A camera is purely a functional item so why wouldn’t you go for the one with the most functions at the best price?
But the VW lady is different. Pauline is actually not a new age nutter tripping through the daisies on a diet of weed and fantasy. She runs her own successful business. She just happens to believe in the magic. The VW was her father’s. She holidayed in it as a child. It’s so much more than a means of transport. It embodies a thousand memories and it’s a trigger. When you put you’re dancing shoes on, you’re off dancing. When she gets in that rusted orange bus, she’s off on an adventure; a switch is flicked within her and she beams with joy … even as she calls the AA.
MAGIC OR PRAGMATISM?
Have you ever analysed what informs your kit purchases? Are you driven by head or heart? Is it all about the number of superlatives in the test report backed up by positive comments on the forums or the beach? Or are you more of a hopeless romantic who plumps for the one that looks right, and somehow represents something you’d like to be a part of? Do you feel a sense of brand loyalty? These musings have been spawned by last month’s eulogy to Tushingham Sails (they are to stop production at the end of the year). The news triggered a torrent of dewy-eyed posts from old salty seadogs sharing tales about their favourite sails and their love of the brand.
John, from Sunderland, wrote a whole page to me about his 5.7 Project which powered him around his first carve gybe when he was on holiday in Barbados. He’d bought into ‘Tush’ after seeing the famous ‘Tushingham Surf Classic’ cartoon poster. It seemed, he said, like a no-frills company led by a group of British blokes having a good time. His Project now forms the roof of his garden gazebo and every time he looks up he says he is taken back to a time of unremitting joy. Interestingly he never mentioned the performance of the sail – just what it felt like to own one.
In the same era other major brands put out different but equally powerful messages, which elicited an equally fanatical following. Maybe it happened but I can’t remember ever seeing anyone with both a Mistral and an F2 in their quiver. You were either one or the other. Mistral were ‘reassuringly expensive.’ With their glorious branding and their outrageously exotic megastars from another galaxy, Robby Naish and Pete Cabrinha, they sold an irresistible lifestyle.
F2, by contrast, shrieked Teutonic precision. Their early stars, Jurgen Honscheid followed by the indomitable Bjorn Dunkerbeck, sold ruthless race-winning efficiency with just a touch of Hawaiian ‘hula hula’ – F2, ‘Fun and Function,’ what a perfect strap-line.
And as for the boards, some were good, some were awful. Mistral’s production board the ‘Take Off’ was released with a glorious promo video featuring Naish ripping it around the sizeable waves off Diamond Head. You believed in it so wholeheartedly that it took us a year to realise it was almost impossible to sail. It was all about the belief. So, are we today buying into the same dreams? Dave White, the distributor of RRD in the UK, believes it’s all very different.
“Back then it was all about creating stars. Today the market is smaller and the manufacturers are afraid to promote their top riders too much in case they ask for more money. But it’s the stars which create the magic. Look at Antoine Albeau. He’s amazing – on a par with Dunkerbeck. He’s been on the tour since the early 90s and he’s still at the very top. He should be up there as a total icon.”
‘Hype’ is traditionally a pejorative term – but windsurfing in the early days was full of it and it was a lot of fun. Bulging marketing budgets allowed for cinematic style trailers. “Coming soon – Tiga’s revolutionary race board.” Everyone was talking about it as Anders Bringdal turned up at La Torche with it under wraps. Only as he got to the water’s edge for the first race was it revealed … a THIRD concave – wow! It was a complete red herring of course, but who cares.
So where are we today? For a start kit is incalculably better. That’s really all you need to know. Substance has won over hysteria. People complain that the tests never say anything bad about anything – but that’s because nothing is bad anymore. The way kit is developed is through minor tweaks. Whereas once long and thin one year, gave way to short and fat the next, today we rarely stray more than a millimetre from something that works. Within that strict framework there’s not much room for hype – and if you tried, some well informed geezer on a forum would soon prick your bubble. However, if we want our amazing sport to flourish there’s no harm in sprinkling it with a little magic dust.
PH 26th July 2016