Aspen Skiing Co.: ‘It’s important to stand up and be heard’ | SierraSun.com

Aspen Skiing Co.: ‘It’s important to stand up and be heard’

Scott Condon
scondon@aspentimes.com

The Aspen Way ad campaign by Aspen Skiing Co. promotes the company's values. Ads promoting Love, Unity, Respect and Commit have run this fall in magazines such as Ski and Outside.

It’s been at least 30 years since Aspen Skiing Co. has run a “traditional” ski industry advertising campaign. You know the type — images of a smiling Barbie and Ken couple with a kid or two, skiing on a bluebird day, with brightly colored outfits on immaculately snow-white slopes.

But this year Skico mounted a different campaign even by its own standards. It features person-sized, 3-D letters placed at intriguing places on the ski slopes, spelling out the words Love, Unity, Commit and Respect. Advertising text and a video explain Skico’s values on each of the topics.

The campaign, dubbed “The Aspen Way,” is intended to show how Aspen Snowmass is different by sharing its values, according to company officials.

“We really doubled down on our commitment to our mission,” Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said at a recent public meeting.

It’s no coincidence that the campaign direction was selected in one of the most political divisive periods in the country’s history. Kaplan penned op-ed pieces earlier this year that affirmed the company’s commitment to battling climate change and welcoming all people — despite their skin color, country of origin or sexual orientation. He wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that took President Donald Trump to task for alienating wealthy Mexican skiers, who are an important niche market for resorts like Aspen and Vail.

Skico’s advertising firm, Karsh Hagan of Denver, saw the earlier op-ed pieces and proposed a campaign for 2017-18 that built off the theme. Skico executives loved it.

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It’s been “mostly well-received,” Kaplan said. “We’ve also gotten some feedback saying, ‘Hey, don’t bring politics into skiing.’ I think our comment is we’re saying we’re not bringing politics into skiing. We’re trying to stand up for our values and our business interests.”

The ad featuring the word Unity shows a ski rack housing various skis and snowboarders as a symbol of diversity. “The mountains don’t discriminate, and neither do we,” the ad copy says. “Neither should anyone. We’re better together. On the mountain, at work, as a nation, as members of the human race. Unity — it’s #TheAspenWay.”

Skico chief marketing officer Christian Knapp said the campaign captures attention and “it’s definitely eliciting opinions.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never had so much feedback on an ad campaign in my career,” said Knapp, a former marketing executive for Vail Resorts.

One particularly flattering comment came from the CEO of Burton Snowboards, widely hailed for its marketing and advertising efforts.

Gregory Wagner, teaching associate professor in the University of Denver’s Department of Marketing and a former advertising industry executive, reviewed “The Aspen Way” at the request of The Aspen Times. He said he feels it is “an excellent campaign.”

“It takes guts to say, ‘Hey, this is what our values are, this is what we think it important and we’re going to make it part of our advertising platform,'” Wagner said.

He believes Skico and its ad agency did an effective job of showing how its values align with those of its target market.

“It’s hard to argue with what they’re promoting,” Wagner said. “And if you think about skiers, they do love the environment, they’re kind of fun-loving people that like and enjoy being with other people.”

Therefore, he believes an image of various types of skis and snowboards on a ski rack with the word “Unity” sends an effective message of togetherness.

Wagner said he believes the campaign will accomplish the top goal of getting notice, getting people talking and even spurring some new business.

“You want to do something that stands out and something that is impactful and unexpected,” Wagner said. “I would say this will be a successful campaign with the majority of their target. Yeah, there’s going to be a few that say, ‘Hey, just talk about the thrill of the run, why are you talking about these other aspects?'”

“The Aspen Way” is just one part of Skico’s marketing campaign this season, albeit the “inspirational piece,” Knapp said. The company is still undertaking efforts such as sending direct mail and email blasts to people on its contact lists advertising lift ticket and lodging specials.

But Skico officials clearly hope “The Aspen Way” makes a splash — not only by getting noticed, but by getting people talking.

“It’s important to stand up and be heard,” Kaplan said.