Discrimination in the Outdoor Industry

Blog post originally published on The Scribesmith and Medium.

 

 

If I read “Not all those who wander are lost” one more time I’m going to gouge my eyes out.

 

I get it, I really do, being outdoors is a transformative experience, and Tolkien’s quote is something the really taps into the spirit of nomadism, BUT with everyone and their grandmother now ‘wandering’, brands need to hire a damn copywriter and get a new script.

It’s about time they create something that speaks to their audiences on a deeper level than just a wishy-washy aspirational scroll through Instagram.

And I get it, it’s hard.

The primary demographic for most outdoor businesses has traditionally been the middle-aged white man who has the funds to invest in expensive gear.

But as we know, old white guys aren’t the only ones scaling peaks, and breaking ground.

Here are a few ways the industry could step up their game if they want to get out of the kiddy pool and wade into the wide, wide sea.

Including the Non(Cis)Male

Raha Moharrak

And, I don’t mean painting a rucksack pink and pushing it at women. That’s not inclusive marketing, that’s sexist BS from the 50s.

Granted there are packs with smaller frames and molded backs made for women, but how many organizations in the industry are tackling some of the unique issues that women in the outdoors face. Safety is a huge one, handling the hell that is menstruation is another. (If you’re cringing at the mention of menstruation, then that’s a whole new post)

How many outdoor brands address these issues? I’m not saying come out with line of tampons (although biodegradable ones for easy disposal aren’t a bad idea) but pretty much every business has a blog, and these are issues that need to be discussed if brand wants to widen their nets to include women.

The next issue is representation. While brands have gotten a LOT better about featuring women in their ad campaigns, it’s still not nearly enough!

There are so many women doing incredible things: Raha Moharrak was the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to summit Everest, Premlata Agarwal, the 50-year-old Indian woman who scaled the Seven Summits, or even Sumiyo Tsuzuki the first Japanese woman to reach the South Pole.

We need to see more of them and less of a pretty blonde chick in a beanie staring off into the distance.

The LGBTQ+ community is even more underrepresented than cis-women. And, if pink rucksacks were bad, then rainbow rucksacks are even worse. The LGBTQ+ community deserves more than just token representation. That means incorporating them into marketing campaigns, speaking to their unique struggles, and to their specific pain points.

Millennials

I touched on this earlier, but more and more millennials are embracing the outdoors, and we deserve marketing that goes beyond fluffy Instagram quotes or #vanlife.

Pretty pictures of tents pitched in impossible places is great and all, but the reason most people (millennials included) love the outdoors so much is because it’s real.

It makes you feel alive. And, there’s nothing more plastic than heavily curated photographs, captioned with other people’s thoughts.

Your target audience is a group of people who literally throw themselves off cliffs to feel alive. Trite, cliché marketing campaigns do them a disservice.

That being said, in this humble millennial’s opinion, the best way to tap into the millennial outdoorist community is to go where they go.

Geocaching is HUGE, thanks to Pokémon Go, companies need to tap into that, come up with ways of using the technology that millennials are already using and welcome them into your tent.

Hot cocoa optional.

People of Color 

Credit: Girl-Trek.org

If you’re sneaky you’ll notice that all the women, I mentioned earlier were POCs.

This should be a no-brainer, it’s 2017 for crying out loud. Why aren’t there more people of color in ad campaigns? Why aren’t more mainstream organizations marketing to POCs?

Nike Middle East’s ‘What Will They Say About You?’ was one of the most beautiful ads I’ve ever seen. It spoke to me on a deeper level, got me teary-eyed and simultaneously made me want to buy Nikes and run around the desert singing Eye of the Tiger. It also made me respect the brand fiercely for taking the time to get to know the struggles that women in South Asia and the Middle East face.

And that’s not just me, that’s pretty much every brown woman on the planet. And, last time I checked, there are a lot of us. (73,787 people are born every day in India alone, if you were wondering)

Apart from that ad, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone who looked like me represented in outdoor ads.

POC are making their voices heard online, and businesses are missing out. One example is the success of Ambreen Tariq’s @BrownPeopleCampingInstagram account.

In an interview with Outside magazine, she attributed the success of her account to the lack of representation in outdoor marketing and media.

“There are so many people who are shouting to be included and made to feel welcome in the outdoors. It’s something that’s truly frustrated me in the outdoors community — there’s an aesthetic of the way outdoor retailers advertise. Thin, usually light-skinned. It’s a very particular way of painting a community. It’s hard to see yourself in the outdoor community if you don’t physically see others like you, and you definitely aren’t seeing it in advertising.”

Representation is important, folks.

Repeat after me,

REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT

And it’s not just to be politically correct, (although I’m all about the PC life #HoyaSaxa), failing to represent minorities is likely hurting your bottom-line. More inclusive ad campaigns will, for a fraction of the cost, not only increase the number of people who purchase from you, but will also make people respect, prefer, and even love your brand more.

How’s that for brand loyalty?

How do we move forward?

The next time you’re sitting around the table bouncing ideas for a new campaign, ask yourself this:

  • Who is missing? How can we include more diverse perspectives and voices?
  • Is out curated content authentic? Are we showing real people doing real things? How do we keep things real without having crappy quality?
  • Have we quoted Tolkien?
    (If you have, fire your copywriter, and hire me.)

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