• 11.16.16

Why GoPro Changed Its Marketing Strategy To Go Beyond The Action

SVP of marketing Bryan Johnston on the brand’s significant shift to convince people its cameras aren’t just for adrenaline junkies.

Why GoPro Changed Its Marketing Strategy To Go Beyond The Action

Last week, GoPro unveiled its first-ever scripted TV ad. For any other brand, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but for the camera company that’s built its cult-like following on the back of an exhaustive catalog of both user- and brand-generated content of everything from surfing and snowboarding, to flying eagles and kitten-saving firefighters, all shot with its wearable cameras, it represents a significant shift.


If you’ve been following the business story of GoPro, it’s not tough to figure out the reasoning behind a shift towards more traditional ad formats, positing a sales pitch aimed at an audience well beyond the brand’s hardcore adrenaline junkie roots. The new ad campaign couldn’t have come at a better time, as the brand needs a hearty dose of optimism. Its third quarter results were released on November 3rd, and came in far below Wall Street expectations, with revenue down 40%, and shares are down 34% this year. Then about a week later it was forced to recall its new Karma drone because the much-anticipated new product was falling from the sky.

Drone recall aside, it’s clear the brand has reached a maturation point in which the explosive growth and popularity based on action sports and fun stunts has leveled off, and GoPro has done the requisite soul-searching into how it can, as senior vice-president of marketing Bryan Johnston puts it, “open the aperture” on its customer base. The new ad and overall “Capture Different” campaign are a direct result of that.

“The brand will always have its core DNA, it’s where we grew up in the action-packed, surf, skate, snow, motorsports world, and it will always be a part of what we do and who we are,” says Johnston. “We’ve done a ton of research, trying to understand the brand, what people like about GoPro, and the funny thing is, the more research we did, the more we looked at people on the edge–who loved GoPro but didn’t have one. They told us one very simple thing: Just show us why we need a GoPro. Explain it to us, make the message simple, and we’ll respond. So that was the goal with this ad.”

Now we can expect much more this kind of broad pitch from GoPro, as the company is making a hard pitch to make its cameras a part of everyone’s tech quiver. But despite the obvious sales potential of the approach, Johnston says it wasn’t an easy decision. “I think the hardest thing for a brand sometimes, when you become so successful at understanding a culture or who your current customer base is, it’s very hard to make a pivot, and it can be a very difficult decision for a brand to make,” he says. “This type of communication will become 60% of our mix going forward, and the reality is we’re making a very intentional decision to make GoPro more digestible for more people. To use a camera analogy, we’re opening the aperture and there is a very defined reality that because we’ve been so successful with people skiing surfing, snowboarding, people in wingsuits, even when you have a magnificent athlete like Lindsay Vohn, some people find it hard to see where they fit in to that. So we needed to democratize GoPro a bit, and make it easier for people to see how they can use GoPro in their own lives.”

It’s those people who are key to GoPro stepping beyond its action sports fish bowl and gaining a bigger foothold in the mainstream.

“We’re honest about ourselves,” says Johnston. “I have friends who’ve told me they love GoPro and all the videos, but they don’t know if their lives are worthy of that community, and that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but those are the people who will double and triple the size of GoPro, who we need to reach out to and get them into the GoPro family.”

About the author

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