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Why Yeti’s latest marketing masterclass is launching eight short films at once

Oscar winner Jimmy Chin is just one outdoor legend featured in the brand’s new quiver of content.

Why Yeti’s latest marketing masterclass is launching eight short films at once
Sandbagging Jimmy Chin [Photo: courtesy of Yeti]

For the last five years or so, Yeti has been cranking out some of the best branded content on the planet. And they sell coolers!

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Each of the brand’s films wonderfully chronicles the lives of those who work and play in the outdoors, covering an eclectic collection of people and pursuits. From surfing to hunting, fishing to snowboarding, they all have one thing in common: passion and humanity.

In a world too often experienced from the flipside of a screen, Yeti’s films offer a glimpse of what’s possible IRL when you get outside.

Last night, for the first time, Yeti launched eight new short films simultaneously, in a virtual premiere live event. It’s like an adventure overload, and it all came about because the pandemic forced the brand to prematurely cancel its 12-city 2020 Film Tour.

“We were determined to find a way to revive the film tour and bring these amazing stories to our fans at a time when we all need a little inspiration, so we made the decision to pivot to a digital release that would be accessible for everyone from the safety and comfort of their homes,” says Bill Neff, Yeti’s vice-president of consumer marketing.

Next week, they’re taking the show back on the road with a socially distanced twist. Starting in Driggs, Idaho, on September 12—with eight stops across Idaho, California, New York, and Texas—fans will be able to watch the films outside at local drive-in theaters.

Among the films premiered last night was Sandbagging Jimmy Chin, in which a group of pro surfers including Keith and Dan Malloy, aim to get the Oscar-winning director and legendary climber to experience the barrel of a wave. In another, 43-year-old pro skateboarder Geoff Rowley talks about the realities of getting older in a young man’s game, and the role nature guiding has played in his longevity. National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2016) Pasang Lhamu Akita Sherpa and Katmandu punk rocker Sareena Rai redefine what being a kickass woman in the mountains actually means.

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The pandemic may have changed Yeti’s content plans, but it certainly hasn’t appeared to slow them down. In April, the brand launched a four-part series with surfer John John Florence, as the one of the world’s top wave riders navigated sailing 2,500 miles of the Pacific Ocean. In May, it was The Midnight Hour, a three-part series starring Grammy- and Oscar-winning songwriter Ryan Bingham interviewing fellow artists.

Neff says with so many unknowns tied to the impact of coronavirus, they really leaned into what they know and do well—telling the stories of the people that inspire them through films and content series. “As a brand built on forging relationships and supporting the people and communities who share our passion for the outdoors, we wanted to make sure we stayed connected during this pandemic,” says Neff.

So far, the strategy has worked. Neff says the brand’s Instagram video views shot up by 500% from mid-February to mid-March, and in that same time with posts from new content series, impressions jumped by more than 50%. In mid-April, Yeti’s Drifting podcast series made it to No. 60 on Apple Podcast Sports charts.

Taken collectively, these films illustrate to anyone new to the brand the kind of storytelling Yeti has fine-tuned over the last few years. The brand’s head of content Scott Ballew says it’s been a long process to really find that voice.

“At one point, the doors were open for fans of the brand to send submissions, but it quickly became overwhelming,” says Ballew. “We learned through trial and error that we needed a much more personal process in finding characters to explore through these films. The better we got to know our characters on a personal level and truly understand their life and story arc, the more effective we became at properly telling those stories.”

Paulie Dery, Yeti’s vice-president of brand and creative, says that, over time, the brand has also become less focused on the so-called rules of content. “When we first started ‘Yeti Presents,’ we were releasing 50 films a year and we were focused on keeping those films limited to 3 to 10 minutes,” says Dery. “We scaled it back to 8 to 12 stories a year, and we’re not worried about a time limit. That takes the guardrails off how we tell these stories and how much deeper we can go with storytelling format.”

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About the author

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

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