Interview with Kim Desai, Managing Director of Propaganda HQ
Where did the idea of project BLUE begin?
The team here at Propaganda HQ has worked with Surfrider Foundation for a number of years on both a professional and personal level. We’re constantly impressed by the great work Surfrider is doing and we couldn’t help but realize that if they had more resources, their job would be that much easier.
At the same time, we saw the great results coming from Product (Red) and thought something similar would translate well to the surf industry. Since a large portion of the work we do here at Propaganda is tied into action sports and youth culture, we already had an idea of what brands we wanted to be a part. Once Surfrider gave the green light, it was on.
Tell us exactly what project BLUE entails:
project BLUE is a collaboration of seven leading and competitive brands in the surf industry, who have agreed to build a co-branded product line where a portion of the proceeds go towards Surfrider. Each brand has a product category (tops, boardshorts, footwear, sunglasses, etc.) and produces custom pieces or colorways for the initiative.
There is a misconception that project BLUE is a charity, which isn’t the case. While Surfrider is a non-profit, project BLUE is an initiative that benefits Surfrider. We didn’t want to create more work for anyone at Surfrider… that would have been counter productive. Instead, the team at Propaganda takes on most of the work that goes into making project BLUE happen, working closely with the partners, developing creative, handling marketing, etc.
Tell us the process you went through from the initial idea all the way to first round launch of the collection (you can give the cliff note version).
Selling the idea was easier than we thought. Each brand saw the value immediately and most of them already had some sort of eco-initiatives in place. On Propaganda’s side, we needed to create all of the strategic marketing elements so project BLUE could be branded as one cohesive product line. We developed the site, drafted messaging that all of the brands can use in telling their own project BLUE story, designed a logo and created hangtags to be attached to the products to better tell the story at retail.
As a project BLUE partner, the brands become licensees and are given a category they have exclusivity with. For example, O’Neill produces all of the fleece and t-shirts for project BLUE, while Nixon is the timepiece partner.
Outside of the actual production that goes into each product, the heavy coordination comes in with the marketing. Some of the partners’ offerings change with each season, others stay the same for the entire year. We’re constantly tweaking our marketing and PR efforts to keep the initiative fresh for consumers.
Who were the key players in making project BLUE happen?
Besides Surfrider, project BLUE it wouldn’t have been possible without the partners involved. They provided the infrastructure, not in just designing the products, but getting them into retail as well. Billabong, DAKINE, Electric Visual, Famous Wax, Nixon, O’Neill and Reef represent the current partners for the 2009 program. Without the great gear these guys continually produce, project BLUE couldn’t be as successful as it is. Swell.com is a part of project BLUE too, acting as our official online partner. If a local shop doesn’t carry project BLUE gear, it’s available on Swell.
What were the hurdles or unforeseen challenges you faced?
Merchandising at retail continues to be a struggle. Similar to how many surf shops were slow to embrace sections specifically for women, we’re seeing that with eco-friendly sections.
Most of the major surf brands have some sort of eco-products in their line, but finding these at retail can be difficult. All project BLUE gear has a special hangtag, but that can be lost on a rack with 200 other shirts or a wall of backpacks. Telling the eco story to customers, whether through POS, specific sections or verbally on the sales floor, is one area where we’re looking to make improvements.
How has it been trying to wrangle so many different brands at once? Are there issues with product timing/brand overlap/competition between brands/etc.?
Great question! Could you imagine if Microsoft and Apple got together? Or Ford and Toyota? That’s what’s happening with project BLUE. Not only do these brands compete directly in terms of their own product lines or the product lines of sister brands, but they also vie for their own share of media coverage, human capital, team riders, etc.
That being said, everyone is playing nice on the project BLUE beach. The partners are vocal during group meetings, even in sharing ideas and strategies that could help one another for the benefit of the collective.
All the brands in project BLUE realize that this initiative is for the greater good of something we all love. Without clean water and beaches, the surf industry suffers. By supporting the Surfrider Foundation, you’re supporting not just the environment, but surfing too.
How did/do you promote and spread the word about PROJECT BLUE?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise because we’re a brand consultancy, but we try to use as many channels available to us as possible.
Occasionally we have ads in the endemic mags, such as the Vote the Ocean ad in the September issue of Surfing. We’re active in the social media world, Tweeting away, partnering with Social Vibe, producing our own online contests and maintaining presences on MySpace and Facebook. There’s always been heavy PR push to secure editorial coverage outside of the endemics and a wide range of media outlets have picked up on the story.
One really cool thing we’ve been doing is an interactive email campaign during the holiday season. Through a micro-site, we provide the tools for people put together custom HTML emails with their favorite project BLUE products embedded and send them to their friends and family to act as gift ideas for the holidays.
project BLUE has taken on a lot of social media initiatives. Are there any strategy tips you’d like to share RE social media? Are there any vehicles you’ve felt are more useful or applicable to what project BLUE is doing than others?
The state of social media provides such a great platform for marketers, but at the same time, it can be an overwhelming time commitment. To do it successfully and not get overwhelmed, we recommend you have a strategy in place that outlines not only what you want to accomplish, but a calendar or timeline for when and how you’re going to execute.
It’s also important to communicate appropriately with your audience. Engage seems to be one of the big buzzwords in social media and it’s a part of the strategy mix that more brands should consider. Does your Facebook page provide value to your audience or are you using it just to post new product releases? Do you ever talk about anything other you’re your own brand? Social media portals aren’t static print ads, they’re meant to be interactive and the communication should go both ways.
How have you measured project BLUE’s success? What were the initial sales figures and/or what has been the amount so far donated to charity? (if you don’t want to be specific, you can give percentages or other examples—just some hard measurement of success would be good)
Well, we just announced that Surfrider will be receiving more than $140,000 from project BLUE,. We’re pretty excited about that.
The monetary figure isn’t the only way we measure success though. Consumer response is fantastic and we’re regularly getting email requests from people asking where they can buy project BLUE gear in their area. Our success with media has been a big indicator that we’re onto something too. The endemics, eco-specific outlets and national media have all been very receptive in telling the project BLUE story.
What’s next for project BLUE?
We have a lot going on for sure. As I mentioned, the September issue of Surfing had an announcement regarding the Vote the Ocean program. Vote the Ocean is a non-partisan political initiative project BLUE is working with Ocean Champions on. Many people are becoming issue voters, straying from party lines and voting for candidates based on their support of one subject or another.
With Vote the Ocean, we’re going to make available historical information on how elected officials stand on the environment.
Other than that, we’ve got a couple new things in the works. We’re very excited about the new products coming out (watch for big things from Nixon!) and in 2010 we should be adding some new partners into the mix to spice things up a little.
Any other comments or advice?
Sure! As surfing and the rest of the action sports world continues to grow in terms of media participation and lifestyle appeal, there’s a massive opportunity out there for the endemic brands and shops to take advantage in their own way. Non-endemic media and brands are hungry to cover and reach out to our world and the marketers that take advantage of this are reaping the benefits.
Also, as the state of marketing changes, it’s important to maintain a cohesive strategy across all of you platforms. From ads in print media to on-site activations and your use of Twitter, everything aspect of your marketing should tie back into your goals and current initiatives.