How Vans is ramping up messaging ahead of skateboarding’s Olympic debut

The iconic skate-centric shoe company hopes to maximize its street cred as skateboarding makes its first appearance as an Olympic event.

This year’s Olympics will be one for the record books. The global sporting event has already made headlines as organizers have struggled to grapple with the COVID-19 virus and ensure safety during the event.

Fans will not be allowed to attend any events, and medical experts are urging spectators to stay home and watch the games from the couch. Yet, the sports spectacle could have a unique captive digital and TV audience—and sponsors hope to make the most of the storylines heading into this year’s games.

One big story to watch is the debut of skateboarding as an Olympic sport. And one brand with a long history in the skating world is looking to grab some air—albeit not as an official Olympic sponsor. Vans has launched a summer campaign ahead of the games, “No Matter How Big Skateboarding Gets, Never Forget Where It Starts,” featuring skate icons such as Tony Hawk and a partnership with award-winning nonprofit Skateistan.

Vans’ Bobby Gascon, senior director of global marketing/action sports, shared with us how the brand is approaching a singular year for skateboarding.

“This year is unlike any previous Olympic years since this is Skateboarding, BMX and Surfing’s introduction into the games,” he says. “We don’t have any sponsorship affiliation, so it’s mostly been supporting our athletes who will be competing and ensuring our campaigns do not break the many promotional rules surrounding the games.”

However, there is plenty of room to lay down some tricks as skateboarding enjoys its big moment.

“Skateboarding, unlike traditional sports, does not have established athlete development systems aided by scholarships and or governmental programs,” explains Gascon, and that offers Vans a unique opportunity to engage.

“Skateboarding is built from the ground up amongst friends in the streets, skateparks, backyard pools and more. As the Olympics create the sport’s largest media attention in history, we want to raise awareness on the importance of supporting its development at the community level.”

Part of that is turning to nonprofit partners who can offer a bigger narrative than an apparel line or even an entire sport can accomplish alone. “As a validation, we want to highlight Skateistan, an award-winning nonprofit organization that builds community at ground zero and uses skateboarding as the lens to provide art-based education for underprivileged children within their skate schools in Afghanistan, South Africa and Cambodia,” says Gascon.

Joining the conversation

As the Olympics set to debut the stars of skateboarding, Vans is hoping to do its part to give the sport its moment in the spotlight.

“We have been in the conversation supporting skateboarding since its humble beginnings and [are] still active today,” says Gascon. “This campaign is about educating the broader audience the Olympics will bring on the importance to support the skateboarding community if we want to see it prosper. Our athletes have been huge advocates of our give-back campaign, including Vans Olympic athletes Lizzie Armanto and Pedro Barros who are featured in the campaign.”

Working with skateboarders has offered some takeaways for Vans on engaging this generation of athletes, including what they care about and how they want to be partnered with.

“Skateboarders are aware about the opportunity and have been taking it seriously and training for the past few years,” says Gascon. “If anything, the pandemic has had a disruptive effect on them with little to no events leading into the games and without mentioning the stress level to travel and compete in Tokyo under these conditions.”

The campaign launched globally on June 21 and is hosted on Vans.com/skateistan, where fans can watch the new video spots of the “Where It Starts” campaign and also create their own Custom Skate Classics donate directly to Skateistan’s programming.

The brilliance of the campaign is in giving fans a storytelling platform to share their own experiences with skateboarding and how they have grown with the sport. And as for measuring success? That will come down to selling shoes—and raising money for Skateistan.

“Vans will donate $10 from every pair of Vans Custom Skate Classics purchased from Vans on Vans.com/customs from June 21 to August 30  – up to US$200k – to Tides Foundation in support of Skateistan,” says Gascon. “The goal is to sell 20,000 pairs of Customs Skate Classics shoes during that period.”

How are you looking to engage Olympic fans ahead of the games?

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