Surfing has always been a lifestyle sport; it’s not an experience or just something you do, it’s life. And it has the power to control so many aspects of your life. From making you wake up before dawn, to last minute decisions that can affect the next several days of your life.
It’s Mother Nature, and we’re all at her mercy. When a swell arrives, suddenly everything becomes less of a priority. Or when the waves are bad, suddenly surfing is not an everyday priority.
Because of this instinct there has always been a tension with outsiders. Hollywood has never “gotten it” and non endemic advertisers have always been mocked for trying to capitalize on a “market.” But inherently this is impossible because we as surfers, see right through this. Their representations of us has never been defining or accurate.
The World Surf League (WSL) has gone through several changes over the last few years, largely in response to a rumored rebel tour. They got new ownership, changed the format of professional surfing, their name, and how the tour is presented to fans.
Some liked it, some hated it. Either way, it worked. The sport has grown, the surfing has improved and, of course, there’s more money to be had. There are also less parking spots at the beach these days.
The WSL signed up Samsung as their global partner, which is providing plenty of sponsorship dollars for the tour. Samsung has one goal: to sell more phones. To do this they want to reach as many people as possible and because they seem to have an endless budget they can do a lot with their advertising.
I cut my teeth in filmmaking in the action sports industry. I grew up surfing and have a formal education in film and more than a decade experience in production working with consumer products and lifestyle brands. Because of my background and experience, I’ve always dreamed of ways to showcase surfing in a legitimate manner, something Hollywood and non endemic brands have forever failed to do.
Until now. Samsung’s “We Are Greater Than I” campaign is pretty great. It’s the right mix of core surfing with mass appeal, something surfing has inherently failed to do.
Breaking Down We Are Greater Than I
The “We Are Greater Than I” campaign tells a story. It’s heartfelt and attractive. It’s understood by core surfers and intriguing to outsiders who only know of surfing as riding waves in the ocean.
Visually, it’s very pleasing. The composition of the shots are beautiful, and the coverage provides the audience with a good idea of each scene. Today’s audiences are smart and advertisers know this.
Advertisers know that audiences can piece together stories quickly with little context. The campaign has several different scenes, ranging from intense freezing cold environments, to shaping rooms, surfboard graveyards, and developing world country duck taping.
Anyone watching this commercial can identify himself or herself in there. The more experienced surfers will know what it’s like to surf in harsh environments or remember the fondness of learning to surf.
Beginners or Hawaii-vacationers-taking-surf-lessons-at-Waikiki will know what it’s like the first time you carry a board into the water and know the effort and drive needed to become a professional. The those who only view surfing from afar can appreciate it with aspiration.
These sensory elements are written all over the campaign. It’s smart, effective marketing strategy directed at a large, diverse audience.
To further drive this home the sound design is also great. The music is tense and serious, but has an element of inspiration and motivation. It makes you feel like you can do it, whether you might actually be able to or have no realistic chance of ever making it out of a deep one at Cloudbreak.
In reality, it doesn’t matter either way. It works. Connections are about making you feel something. And if Samsung makes that connection they will sell more phones.
In just a second or two each, they are able to connect with many different types of audiences. Those who have seen surfers making do with the bare remnants of a surfboard to those who have been asked to leave by “surf fascists.”
The sound design is how they reach and connect to such a wide and diverse audience.
The script stretches it somewhat, although the writing is great. It is somewhat repetitive and starts to enter that world where Hollywood doesn’t get it. It’s lofty, almost too lofty with lines that thank Kelly for “making it look too damn easy” and shows someone attempts a frontside reverse air. But it does remind us all of why we surf, and drives the story along with flow, which are ingredients for great script writing.
This is where they really appeal to the non core crowd. They bridge the gap between those that really know and understand to those who want to know and even to those who have no idea.
Does Samsung Surf?
Samsung is trying to connect with the audience through one or more of those scenes. If you can relate to one scene, Samsung hopes you’re much more likely to show interests in another scene or the rest of the commercial, as well as a smartphone or other electronic device.
But does Samsung care about surfing or the industry? Probably not- well, maybe they do. Just as much as they care about cycling.
The campaign is great because it’s well done, has great production value, and connects with it’s audiences. It’s thoughtful and meaningful and it will likely sell a lot of phones. There are a few disconnects and some room for improvement, but it’s the best campaign I’ve seen surrounding non endemic surfing.
“We Are Greater Than I” is an effective campaign that will inevitably bring more money into the sport of surfing. It’s going to bridge the gap between surfing as we know it today to the wave pool future where anyone in the world can surf.
If you think surfing is selling out now, we’re just getting started. Corporations are entering the sport to make money and when they see that the geographical limitations can be removed, it will open up a much larger market they will be the first ones to enter. Surfs up.
The New Wave
Samsung isn’t alone in their efforts. Advertising has changed. Not only with how brands can reach consumers but the way they’re doing it. They’re partnering with smart storytellers who can create that connection in a brand-positive way.
Expect to see more of this trend in the future. Once more marketers realize the effectiveness and catchiness of similar campaigns they won’t be far behind. It is a more enjoyable way to learn about a product. I don’t think selling out is accurate, but trendsetting (from an advertising perspective.) I should know as I work with brands on similar campaigns and can speak to the effectiveness.
Surfing is growing up. It’s no longer niche, it’s mass. It’s still core, but there will be layers added and marketers will take note.