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Four mountain marketing

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Over the past 15 years, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s marketing strategy has been somewhat schizophrenic, flip-flopping from one strategy to another.

Some campaigns have emphasized skiing and outdoor recreation, while others have veered toward the artsy and abstract. The most recent campaign, “Night and Day,” sought to combine all that Aspen/Snowmass has to offer, from skiing and snowboarding to off-hill activities. And while that strategy, too, has gone by the wayside, it still serves as an inspiration.

Earlier this month, the Skico unveiled its newest campaign, “The Power of Four,” which uses the Night and Day campaign as sort of a backdrop while taking it to a whole new level.

The man behind the curtain

The man behind the Skico’s new look is David Perry, who became the vice president of marketing roughly a year ago. Since that time he, along with marketing director Jeanne Mackowski and public relations director Susan Darch, have been crafting a new campaign. They came up with The Power of Four, a summation of everything Aspen/Snowmass has to offer, with the four mountains ” Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass ” as its centerpiece.

“What is unique and special about Aspen/Snowmass?” Perry asked. “We have four mountains and nobody else does. We haven’t made enough of that, so certainly that’s where The Power of Four concept came from.”

But it goes beyond the hills themselves. The campaign is broad, both in concept and in the media it uses to convey its message, yet the message is unusually direct and comprehensive.

“It’s energetic, it’s all about excitement,” said Kitty Boone, who was the Skico’s director of marketing from the late 1980s until about 2000. “In the past, we had a lot more subtlety. [The Power of Four] is a lot more clear.”

Unlike past Skico campaigns, The Power of Four isn’t a one-page advertisement wedged between a dozen other ski resort ads in a typical industry magazine. Instead, it’s a 44-page book, developed by the Skico marketing department, and a 22-minute movie produced by legendary ski-filmmaker Greg Stump.

Besides the mountains, The Power of Four examines Aspen/Snowmass’ culture, history, alternative recreation, nightlife, restaurants and local characters (including a couple of avalanche rescue dogs). The 44-page booklet, in particular, is rich with stories and anecdotes from Aspenites old, young and in between.

“Most of all, I wanted the Aspen/Snowmass brand to be accessible to people, and I’m not talking about geographically, I’m talking about socially and culturally,” Perry said.

Perry is acutely aware of the widespread notion that Aspen/Snowmass is an exclusive playground for the rich. He aims to challenge and change that perception.

“There are people out there that have a negative association with the Aspen brand,” Perry said. “The reality is that it’s accessible, friendly and unpretentious.”

The movie is loaded with images of everything Aspen/Snowmass has to offer, while the book is compiled of photos and commentary from local heroes, athletes and characters.

“If you want to make the place seem accessible, to tell the story through the voices of the locals is the best way,” he said.

New place, same approach

Before arriving in Aspen, Perry was the CEO of Colorado Ski Country. Before that, he spent 15 years as the senior marketing director of Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia.

“I was deeply involved during that period of time when Whistler grew from nothing to something,” he said.

He’s not exaggerating. While skiing in Aspen 10 years ago, Perry made a startling discovery while riding the lift with a couple of locals.

“I told them I was from Whistler and they said, ‘Where’s that?'” Perry said.

From relative obscurity, Whistler-Blackcomb has risen to become one of the premier destination resorts in North America.

“Why did Whistler get on the map?” Perry asked. “Strong marketing had a lot to do with that, the physical attributes had a lot to do with that.”

It was also in Whistler, in 1988, that Perry and Stump became fast friends and business partners. Since then, the two have collaborated on numerous projects.

When The Power of Four was conceived, Perry immediately thought of Stump, who’s best known for his production of the “Blizzard of Ahhhs,” which broke the ski-film industry mold in 1988. Stump’s new film about Aspen features some narration, but is built primarily on images set to music.

“I chose to work with Greg because he’s got soul, he’s got credibility, and his ability to select music and add his footage to music are beyond compare,” Perry said. “He’s the best editor and winter resort storyteller I’ve ever known. He’s a brilliant creative mind.”

Aspen and Whistler are entirely different places, but Perry used the same approach for both places.

“I look at the unique attributes, and I try to project those in the most positive light,” he said.

In the past, Skico has hired advertising agencies to handle its marketing. The Power of Four, on the other hand, was developed by Skico alone.

“The Power of Four was in-house,” Perry said. “We did it in-house because we were passionate about it. There was no stopping us ” we knew it was right and we were very excited about the project.”

But it goes a little deeper than that.

Overly artsy

The late 1980s bore witness to “The Aspens” campaign, developed by the Hal Riney advertising agency. The ads were different than anything Skico had ever done before, which some liked and others didn’t.

“They were more hip, artsy and edgy and fun,” said Boone. “It was a way to stand out from our competition.” It was also a way to upset some locals, who felt the ads downplayed skiing.

The Aspens campaign was centered around beautiful images, such as Aspen trees casting shadows on snowy slopes, while images of skiers or even nightlife were virtually nonexistent. The ads ran in magazines like Conde Nast Traveler, Gourmet, and Travel and Leisure, instead of the traditional ski magazines.

In September 2000, John Norton, Skico’s former chief operating officer, told The Aspen Times that Skico and Riney split because the agency “didn’t take the time to learn” about the skiing industry or what Skico was attempting to convey.

So for Perry, the decision to go in-house was an easy one.

“You have to have a deep-seated feeling for the minds of skiers, how [they] work,” Perry said. “Ski resorts have recruited marketing wizards that are very powerful and renowned, but they come to the ski industry and fall flat on their face.

“We are a unique breed. You either get it or you don’t,” he added. “I’m a skier, a mountain guy, it’s in my soul ” I think I get it.”

Telling the whole truth

The Power of Four movie, which was written by Rob Story ” an icon in ski and outdoor recreation writing ” is being shown all over the world. In addition to cable television, the film is showing at trade shows and aboard trans-Atlantic flights.

The book, which contains a copy of the DVD, is in limited production and is meant for influential travel and ski industry figures.

But the campaign isn’t limited to the book and the movie. A removable 16-page vacation planner with information about lodging, airlines, lift tickets, ski rentals and lessons is displayed in copies of Ski, Skiing and Outside magazines sent to subscribers. Last year, Skico printed 45,000 vacation planners; this year they printed 920,000.

“We’re reaching more people with more info right away,” Mackowski said. “Instead of doing full-page ads, we decided ‘why not just give them the vacation planner?'”

Additionally, advertisements featuring some of Aspen’s greatest athletes, like Gretchen Bleiler, winner of the 2003 Winter X Games superpipe competition at Buttermilk, are running in Freeze, Transworld Snowboarding and Powder magazines.

When asked to run down a list of all the different media and types of marketing Skico is using this year, Perry asked, “How much time have you got?”

In taking public comment from prior visitors, Mackowski said, “Everyone had something different to say about Aspen/Snowmass.”

And maybe that’s how this campaign differs from those of the past. Instead of focusing on one aspect of Aspen/Snowmass, Perry and his staff have tried to capture the whole picture (building on the Night and Day campaign). And rather than targeting one group of potential customers, they’re gunning for everybody. In effect, they’re saying Aspen has something for everyone.

“It’s wide but narrow,” Perry said. “Wide because we’re using as many different mediums as possible to reach people in different ways, and narrow because it’s to skiers.”

So maybe this one will stick around for a while.

Said Perry: “So far The Power of Four is resonating really well. It’s going to have a life, it will be around for a while.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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