That’s something extreme athletes—the ones who risk their lives climbing sheer granite rock faces and skiing down the treacherous slopes—hear all the time. But a new “Question Madness”-themed campaign challenges that simplistic take on why these adventurers do what they do, presenting a deeper and, frankly, more moving and inspiring picture of what motivates some of the world’s most daring top-level athletes to go out and explore.
At the core of the global digital content campaign, created by agency Sid Lee for the brand’s 50th anniversary, is “Question Madness,” a nearly two-minute anthem spot being released on Facebook today. Set to Cat Stevens’s “Miles From Nowhere,” it features breathtaking expedition footage from the likes of snowboarder Xavier De La Rue and climbers Emily Harrington, Alex Honnold, and Renan Ozturk, as well as other vintage clips from athletes who have been associated with the brand throughout its half century.
While he’s well aware that most people are not pursuing outdoor adventures to the degree these athletes do, The North Face president Todd Spaletto believes the campaign will resonate with a target audience he describes as progressive explorers. “When we look at the fundamental motivators for this consumer, they’re achievement oriented, they’re searching for meaning, and they’re competitive, but they’re competitive with themselves, not other people. They’re wanting to make a positive impact on others,” Spaletto says. “They emotionally connect to the spirit of exploration.”
Continuing the theme at the heart of its first-ever global marketing campaign last year, which was turning focus from the technical qualities of the brand’s outdoor gear, to shine a brighter light on the emotional side of the outdoors, moments of fear, weakness, and pain as well as success, joy, and awe. Everyone has had what Spaletto calls “those moments,” whether they are skiing, climbing, or running.
“I remember when I ran my first marathon, and I hit the wall at mile 21,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’ve got five more miles to go! Those are the moments that we remember most. It’s moments like those that feed the soul and satisfy our constant thirst for progress in life. It’s what motivates us to do what’s next.”
In addition to the anthem spot, the campaign includes a series of short digital portraits—directed by Stacy Peralta—of various athletes, including skier Angel Collinson, who survived a 1,000-foot fall in Alaska this past January, yet can’t imagine ever giving up the sport, and the aforementioned Honnold, who eschews materialism and lives in a van so he can focus on climbing.
“We have the unique benefit of having these amazing athletes as part of our brand, and in addition to being amazing athletes, they’re really great storytellers who have done things that only a handful of people in the world have done,” says Tom Herbst, the company’s vice president of global marketing. “They are a really important part of our overall brand DNA. The North Face is a brand that is true to its core. It has real stories to tell, and not only do I think that’s important for today’s marketing world, it also builds a lot of belief in the product itself.”
Everyone has a story to tell, of course, and fans of The North Face are also being invited to share their #QuestionMadness moments via social media.
In retail news, The North Face is also celebrating its 50th anniversary by opening a New York City flagship store that will feature an interactive climbing wall that customers can use to test products. The soft launch is on October 14, with the official grand opening on October 26—it was 50 years ago on this date that the brand’s first-ever store opened its doors in San Francisco.
“We’re super proud that it’s our 50th anniversary,” Spaletto says. “We always say what we’re most proud of is the things that really motivated the people that started the company, and through the decades are the things that motivate our team on a daily basis. The mission statement of the entire company in 1968 was to make the best products in the world. The mission statement in 1977 was expedition proven, and today, those are not only still part of our brand, but they’re still driving engines for how we go to market, and what motivates us to make what we make.”