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Dreams and Reality in the Outdoors

Much of what is on sale on the shelves of outdoor shops today will mainly be used in the less extreme environment of our “urban jungle”. The red or navy anoraks of days past have been replaced by stylish, lightweight and high-tech pieces of clothing in exotic materials and colors that may never set foot on top of a mountain. Yet images of climbers, skiers or hikers still grace the pages of catalogs and advertisements aimed at consumers that are often perceived as “buying into the lifestyle”.

The purpose of this study is to explore the implications of image-driven marketing strategies in the outdoor industry in Sweden, and the relevance of lifestyle in creating value in this industry. To deal with the complexity and ambiguity of this issue I have conducted a qualitative study based on interviews with seven respondents in managerial positions within the outdoor industry. I have also analyzed a number of advertisements and product catalogs from outdoor firms that illustrate, support and sometimes challenge the statements of the respondents. This material has been interpreted with a hermeneutic approach, based on a conceptual framework that includes semiotics, consumer behavior and lifestyle marketing theories.

Based on the study’s findings, it can be concluded that marketing based on signification and imagery is steadily growing in relevance in the outdoor industry, recognizing the perceived value of outdoor products as signs or ways to create and communicate meaning among consumers. The evidence also suggests that lifestyle is both a way for consumers to bring a clearer identity, order and continuity into their lives and a viable means for outdoor businesses to create value. From a marketing perspective, this is often achieved through a combination of three approaches.

One such approach is redefining urban life as “rest”, as a way to more clearly relate it to outdoor activities and allow for some sort of continuity between the outdoors and city life. Another is to market the activity, such as climbing or kayaking, instead of products directly, in an attempt to win credibility in consumers’ eyes and relate the products to a more broadly defined lifestyle.

The third approach is to highlight a core group of outdoor athletes, that seemingly live and breathe for the activity and the outdoors, as an embodiment of the outdoor lifestyle. A combination of these approaches and their integration with the growing focus on design is one way the outdoor industry can meet the challenges and opportunities the future holds.
Source: Stockholm University
Author: Bimbashi, Enri

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