Tubular Marketing, Dude

Stoked on surfing, big advertisers are hitting the beach

To the Sixties generation, the quintessential surfer was a casual dude named Moondoggie from the movie Gidget. That image metamorphosed by the Eighties into hash-smoking, slack-jawed Jeff Spicoli in the flick Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Told to find a job before graduation, the ne'er-do-well Spicoli can't see the point. Hey, he says, all I need are some "tasty waves."

When the next generation thinks surfer, chances are the name Kelly Slater will spring to mind. And no one but no one is worried about Slater's job prospects once the Cocoa Beach (Fla.) high schooler graduates this June. Just six days of carving crisp green Califor-nia tubies last September earned him $30,600. Tasty, but a mere appetizer next to the nearly $1 million he's contracted to earn in endorsements through 1993.

'ON THE BOARDS.' Slater is the latest beneficiary of a trend that's yet to crest. Big advertisers keep hitting the beach to hawk their wares among a crowd that's influential, you might say, to the max (table). As Michael H. Burke, a Bausch & Lomb Inc. marketer, puts it: "All eyes are on those kids on the boards."

A few companies beg to differ. Procter & Gamble Co.'s Hawaiian Punch last year set out to co-sponsor the Professional Surfing Association of America's 1991 tour, but it later backed off. Pepsi-Cola Co. also quit after three years as co-sponsor of a Santa Cruz (Calif.) surf contest. Says Pepsi spokesman Andrew Giangola: "We're taking a closer, harder, more analytical look at where we're spending our dollars."

But Pepsi and P&G are the exceptions. "We've been very pleased with the results of our investment," says Mark C. Lamping, Anheuser-Busch Inc.'s sports marketing director. "Surfing has a great future in lifestyle marketing." Busch expects to reenlist for five more years as chief sponsor of the PSAA's Bud U. S. Pro Surfing Tour, which on Apr. 14-15 is set to begin 1991's 11-event run on cable television's Prime Ticket Network.

One reason Budweiser is stoked about surfing is that next to the megabucks in its marketing budget, it spends chump change at the beach. This year, the PSAA's purse is expected to be $440,000. Bud splits that and other expenses with a host of co-sponsors, including Nissan and Hawaiian Airlines. In return, they all get exposure to as many as 15,000 trendsetting beachgoers for each of the five days a typical event runs.

That's the sales pitch, anyway. The kids on the beach "have a tremendous amount of power and influence," claims Robbie Meistrell, whose closely held Dive `n Surf Inc. owns the PSAA. "What would you pay to have 40 days on the beach in Southern California as a promotion?" Sponsors are mum about the precise terms of their deals, yet most think they're getting their money's worth. That goes for General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac Div., which signed up for a fourth year co-sponsoring a Huntington Beach (Calif.) contest that drew 165,000 fans in 1990.

That event is run by the PSAA's rival, the older Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour. With deep pockets such as Coca-Cola Co.'s behind it and a $2.2 million 1991 purse, the nonprofit ASP has the world's best surfers. They, in turn, have lured ESPN Inc., which on Apr. 29 is set to show the second of 10 ASP events this year, the Marui Pipeline Masters, sponsored by big Japanese retailer Marui Co. Packaged with beach volleyball and waterskiing, surfing on ESPN draws viewers in a million households and ads from Levi Strauss, Eastman Kodak, even DeBeers, says ESPN Vice-President Robert M. Jeremiah.

A prime attraction should be the rich kid from Cocoa Beach, who is expected to join the ASP World Tour. "Kelly Slater is a real sensation," gushes Robert B. McKnight Jr., president of Quiksilver Inc., his sponsor. The sportswear company thinks Slater has "crossover" appeal and plans to use him to promote the denim and other nonbeach apparel lines that now make up nearly 80% of sales.

Slater had better be sensational. The Costa Mesa (Calif.) outfit, which saw sales triple, to $91.2 million, in the three fiscal years ended last October, could use a boost. With the recession, Quiksilver sees lower 1991 sales and profits. And, despite a debt-free balance sheet, Quiksilver's stock in the past year sank from 30 to as low as 7. Lately, it has rebounded to about 11. But it's still so low that if Slater grabs some and helps Quiksilver get growing again, he may scarf up some totally delicious profits in the tricky tides of Wall Street.

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