burton snowboards: for love and money

The end of the ski season. The all-too-quickly approaching MTV-style Spring Break media coverage. The observance of International Women’s Day. Seems an appropriate time to take a look at the porn-inspired “Love” line of Burton snowboards, which will not be produced next season.

The controversial series of men’s snowboards, called Love, which featured eye-catching images of Playboy Playmates, boosted sales for Burton, and ignited a debate about sexism and free speech.

Over the past couple of winters, new lines of Love were created, with each year’s series featuring newly-released (nearly) naked images of women. As coverage of the controversy faded away, the snowboards continued to sell extremely well, and Burton continued to pretend to be oblivious to what all the fuss was about. (Which is extremely doubtful. Jake Burton himself has an economics degree from NYU.)

So, why did they (have to) use pornography to sell snowboards? 

“It’s not pornography,” defended company founder Jake Burton. “It’s the fact that kids want to ride on stuff that their parents would never go near, and that’s part of snowboarding for all of us.”

Burton’s stance sounds very raw, and noble, and cutting edge. But there is nothing edgy about selling teen snowboarders images of naked women, when their parents were probably skiers reared on ski films like Hot Dog … The Movie, which featured Playmate-of-the-Year Shannon Tweed, back in 1984, a generation ago. (Burton, who was turning thirty when the cult classic was originally released, no doubt remembers the movie from the remnants of his own youth.)

There is, of course, nothing new, different, or ultimately, shocking about this marketing scheme. What could be more mainstream than spoon-feeding young men images of sex? But there seems little reason for Burton to employ such an overused financial philosophy when their success as a company has been largely built upon progressive values such as employee benefits of matching childcare payments, and paying half the bill for their workers’ gym memberships.

This internal philosophical contradiction seems a bit odd, since Burton is the business’s most notable and economically successful snowboard manufacturer, enjoying about half of the market share.

One must wonder, then, whether Burton’s success is due to its values and seemingly well-deserved publicity, or to its mundane marketing philosophy, which is then masked as cutting edge and rebellious. Is Burton’s financial success due to the artistic expressions of their snowboard lines, or despite them? And, if the market’s most successful manufacturer can’t survive without hurling images of sex at its “core snowboarders,” then what does that say about the culture of snowboarding as a whole?

“I never tried to give my life meaning / by demeaning you,” sings Ani DiFranco. By resorting to images of sex, and employing such an overused marketing philosophy, while pretending to be cutting edge, it is their own customers who Burton disrespects, and, in doing so, Burton threatens to demean the very culture they helped create.

Burton is ending production of their Love series. (Although sexualized images of women will still be seen on their 2012 Thread line.) Is this because of the pressure of the controversy, or despite it? Is Burton just pausing before creating its next (un)controversial marketing pitch? And will their customers continue to buy it?




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Filed under Advertising, Consumerism

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