• 04.10.14

The Tony Hawk Guide To Branding–And Hoverboards

The skateboarding legend talks about staying relevant to a young audience and why he had to apologize for Funny or Die’s nod to Back to the Future.

The Tony Hawk Guide To Branding–And Hoverboards
[Image: Flickr user Victor Solanoy]

For a brief time, it was real. There was the most famous name in skateboarding demonstrating a working model of the hoverboard we’ve been dreaming about since 1989. A company called HUVr Tech had enlisted Tony Hawk, along with Christopher “Doc Brown” Lloyd, to pitch its technological breakthrough. The video went viral and soon the conspiracy theories started. Who did it? Was it real?


Turns out it was a Funny or Die stunt, but Hawk was the one to break the news. “The whole time I’m thinking, since it’s Funny or Die, that that’s where the video will be released, it’ll be obvious that it’s a joke,” says Hawk. “But they were so excited with how it turned out, that they made it like a fake company and then kept quiet about it. A lot of the questions and heat was coming down on me because no one was saying anything, and I was waiting for them to say it was a joke. But after three days, I told them I had to say it was fake because no one knew it was Funny or Die, so I was the lightning rod for this whole thing.”

That’s when Hawk came clean in a video message of his own. “People were so mad about it, it’s hilarious. The thing is, even if the hoverboard was real, none of us could afford it! It was crazy.”

The level of excitement and trust in the original HUVr Tech video was largely due to Hawk’s supposed endorsement. For more than 25 years, he’s been one of the biggest names and most recognizable faces in skateboarding, a constant presence as the sport grew into a global culture. The 45-year-old has managed to keep himself and his company Birdhouse Skateboards involved and relevant in an industry that favors the new and the young.

Hawk says that there’s no real secret to brand relevance beyond putting in the effort. “It’s all about walking the walk,” he says. “That means putting in the time not only actually skateboarding, but going to the events and contests, because I can’t sit here behind a desk and say what’s cool or not if I’m not out there on the street seeing what’s happening. It’s about talking to and working with people who are actually doing the thing you’re trying to promote or get involved with, to get out there and see for yourself what’s happening, as opposed to listening to someone else try to tell you what the trends are.”

Birdhouse Ads

For Birdhouse Skateboards that has meant giving team riders a strong voice when it comes to brand direction. “Definitely keeping the people involved in the company, the ones on the ground, aware and out among your audience,” says Hawk. “For us that means regularly bringing in new, young riders to be part of the team and company, and not just relying on your big names or more established riders. You have to keep it fresh. So I’ve always tried to find and cultivate new talent.”

Not long ago Birdhouse was going through a tough time and perceived, as Hawk puts it, as a “kiddie brand.” He recruited a whole new class of skaters to represent the brand and then took their views seriously when it came to image. “It was a fresh start, we got a new logo and all that,” he says. “But when I showed it to the team they actually didn’t like it. It surprised me but also showed me that my ear wasn’t close enough to the ground. They told me they wanted the original, old school logo and to go in that graphical direction and we listened. It paid off immediately. The brand went from one of the most uncool brands to winning the Thrasher King of the Road event, which is about as legitimate as you get as a skateboard team.”

Image: Flickr user Kiran Koduru

Meanwhile Hawk’s personal brand also continues to grow. A new (exclusively mobile?) version of his groundbreaking video game series is on the way, possibly by summer.


Hawk will be a speaker at the Semi-Permanent creative festival in Sydney on May 22nd to 24th, to talk about brand building and maintaining his position as a cultural icon.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.