Changing perceptions and established performance brands is like moving mountains. But Bob Sheard, snowboarder, North Pole Ultra Marathon runner and founding partner of the creative agency, Fresh Britain. is unfazed by challenges
Creative guru, Bob Sheard talks to us about how mountain brands lose their way, women get sidelined and pistes need better maps.
What does style in association with the mountains mean to you?
A cleverer man than I said 'you never see a fucked up mountain'. What he meant by that was the beauty of a man is whole; your eye isn’t drawn to one piece of it (like a beautiful woman). Design for the mountain and style for the mountain should follow that principle. It's not about go-faster stripes. It's about elegance and performance.
How did Fresh Britain’s involvement with ski brands come about?
In chronological order we were commissioned to resolve the brand meaning of: Nike ACG, Salomon, Mountain Force, Arc'teryx, amongst other performance brands
In your company profile you say you embark on 'the brutal search for the truth' in a brand. What do you mean?
Consumers resonate with a truth. Brands that fail to recognise this end up disconnecting with their consumers.
How radically different can a brand’s view of the truth be from what you discover?
If you take a Georgian house that's had a sucession of owners - the first one knocked the kitchen through to the living room, the second one put a gym and sauna into the basement, the third put in a hot tub and garden on the roof terrace, the fourth installed a sunken bath and wet room into the third floor, the final one made a granny flat on the fifth floor and so on. And, eventually, that Georgian house no longer represents the original architectural truth. And that's what happens with brands with successive brand managers. Our hope is to unearth the original brand truth and reframe for tomorrow's consumer reality.
How do you start to address brand strategy?
By figuring out what the consumer wants.
What, generally, do you aim to accomplish with a brand?
Simplicity and clarity.
What do you think is the best way to communicate a brand’s message to the consumer?
Cicero said 'nothing convinces like conviction'. I share that view and, therefore, think that the best way to communicate the brand message to the consumer is don’t do it unless you can do it with conviction.
Can you give an example of Fresh Britain’s effect on a ski brand?
We would rather let the work speak for itself.
In what areas do you think the ski world could do with more creative help?
Jesus, where do I start. Why is it that after a long flight and a long transfer, unpacking my bags and the children, that it is deemed okay for me to leave the warmth of the hotel with two young children, queue with them to be measured for kit, then walk back to the hotel with three pairs of skis and bindings? Surely in an age of digitalisation why can't they deliver the skis and bindings to the hotel? And then there's the piste map. It's shocking. Has no one in the ski world seen a London tube map and thought, wow that could work here?
Describe your archetypical 'performance' woman for brand inspiration?
We can consume strong independent performance-orientated women in popular cuture. For example: Ellen Ripley in the Alien films, Lara Croft, Run Lola Run, Maya in Dark Zero Thirty. These are incredibly powerful, seductive and attractive archetypes. However, we can't consume that in performance brands. Most performance communication is directed at men. Half the market is women.
What are you most proud to have accomplished/created with a ski brand?
I think if we have had one small effect on ski brands it has been to take 'noise out of communication' to give them the confidence to simply portray their truth.
Does your personal passion for the mountains help?
Yes. Passion, in whatever form it takes, helps everything.
How/why did you get involved with the Ultra Marathon?
We were contracted to create an ultra marathon brand. This project became UVU (You Versus You). It was essential to unearth the truth of the consumers' connection to that brand and its product and, therefore, it felt that the logical step in the search was to run an ultra marathon.
When you competed last year in the North Pole, how long did it take you and how hard was it?
It took six and a half hours. But, as with any of these events, all the hard work is done before you get there. If you can't enjoy something like that, no matter how difficult it is, then there really is no point doing it
What was your most essential piece of kit?
Satellite phone and jelly beans.
What snowboard are you riding on and what are you wearing, this winter?
Custom X snowboard. And I'm wearing what I have worn for the last decade, which is my trusted Arc’teryx sidewinder jacket.
What did you last buy, mountain gear-wise? And why?
Arc'teryx Alpha SV gloves. They took four years to develop and they are the only waterproof leather gloves that you can pick up a coin while wearing them.