Vans' 'Girls Skate India' campaign follows athletes battling cultural expectations

The brand opted for longform video to bring its International Women's Day work to life.

Throw "storytelling" in the fire for most overused words in adland and watch it burn (add "game-changer" for kindling). 

Marketers continue to peddle the annoying sound bite when talking about their new 15-second ad because, since digital dominated, there’s nothing weird about shoehorning a full-blown story into a tiny slot. It works—just look at Google’s six-second YouTube bumper ads.

But sometimes, bigger is better. Like lengthy stories with characters and a beginning, middle and end. That’s why Vans has favored longform video for the latest installment of its "This Is Off The Wall" campaign: "Girls Skate India."

"Most people in advertising and marketing are faced with a similar dilemma right now in that we’re constantly being told that people’s attention-spans are dipping below goldfish level, and we have three seconds to grab someone’s attention," said Jamie Reilly, Vans VP of global creative. "I think that puts the pressure on you to do things in a particular way."

He was part of a team of creatives from the clothing company who went to India to work with brand ambassador Atita Verghese. She has a new vision for girls in a place where gender inequality has a long way to go. Verghese teamed up with professional skateboarder Lizzie Armanto to host a clinic for girls inspired by the sport.

The spot, released to coincide with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, subtly explores themes of empowerment through the eyes of girls whose culture discourages them from playing sports. Skateboarding is such an outlier in India that many of the kids who appear in the campaign don't even know that what they're doing is frowned upon.

To tell their stories, Vans opted for a media strategy that essentially offered two bites of the same cherry: short videos which can be easily shared on social for today’s goldfish audience, and elaborated content.  

"I think they’re both necessary in the media landscape we’re in right now," Reilly continued. "We really made an effort this year to get into the details, get into the nuance and let people get to know these characters. One develops a much closer relationship with the characters in this story and with the brand by getting to know people from more than just a sound bite."

The strategy for more longform video is by no means a "game-changer." But it is a new piece to the campaign pie since "This Is Off The Wall" launched last year, which was spawned from the idea of showcasing all the different things that Vans has held dear over its brand life: skateboarding, surfing, music, art, snowboarding, BMX. Videos from the start of the campaign in 2017 captured just a moment that personified the brand. But, for Reilly, content with more breadth was always the way forward.

"We have a belief that people like stories," he said. "When we release skate videos, they vary in range from seven minutes to an hour. There is an appetite for longform, stories and, for me, those are the things that get me emotionally. You know, five seconds of something that really makes me laugh, I’ll send it on, but the things that make me happy and excited to be alive tend to be the longer than someone stepping on rake. By the way, I love a good video of a guy stepping on a rake."

So is longform poised to be a big part of Vans’ future marketing strategy? In truth, Reilly doesn’t know. And this chilled, Cali mentality is the shovel that’s carved a niche for the brand over its competitors (some of which, like Supreme, operate on a very exclusive basis by releasing new lines under the radar).

"I feel lucky to be part of a company that—from its inception—has really looked at the world pretty differently," he said. "When I think about the different decisions that Paul and Steve Van Doran [the founders] made along the way, even the idea that on the first day his shoe store was open, Paul started making custom shoes for people because they didn’t have the colored material they wanted. That’s just a willingness to go at things in a different way, and that thinking predates the term ‘branding.’"

Reilly said the company has always used the younger generation as a lifeline for creativity. Nowhere is this more evident than Vans’ infamous checkered slip-ons, which were inspired by kids drawing on their shoes. This mindset has helped the brand grow organically.

"Supreme is a fantastic brand that really trades off exclusivity," he added. "But Vans is much more democratic. And that’s not to say that everybody is going to think that’s right for them, but there is no exclusivity—my grandmother has Vans, my nine-year-old has them, I have them, and we’re all pretty different."

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