Skico gambles with offbeat environmental ad campaign

Scott Condon
All three of the Skico's ads feature a shot of Highland Bowl with a picture a melting snowflake but have different messages. (Courtesy Aspen Skiing Co.)

The Aspen Skiing Co. hopes potential customers are ready for a snow job.On Wednesday, the Skico unveiled a new advertising campaign for the 2006-07 season that centers around the message that snow – and skiing – will disappear around 2100 if humans don’t take drastic action to slow global warming. Three full-page ads in the campaign will run in Ski and Outside magazines in the next few months.One ad portrays a “certificate of death” for snow. Another labels snow an “endangered species” and explains why. The third pretends to be a “future definition” describing snow when snow is gone.All three ads feature a shot of Highland Bowl. Imposed over it is a melting snowflake.The Skico is gambling that it can capture the attention and interest of potential customers through environmental advertisements. That’s contrary to advice it received five years ago when it paid an outside market research company to help it determine its “brand strategy.”

That July 2001 study by a firm called the Z Group concluded that environmental issues were “neither highly important nor motivating for our three target segments.” It advised Skico officials to focus on other issues that were more capable of selling lift tickets.”That is not to suggest that Aspen/Snowmass should reduce its commitment to environmental responsibility, but rather simply to recognize that its value to the company does not lie in its marketing contribution,” the study said.Skico: Times have changedSkico officials insisted Wednesday that times have changed.”We think that the environmental awareness has really come to the forefront in the last five years,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. “The timing is right. The target market is right.”In a letter to reporters that accompanied copies of the new ad campaign, Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell wrote that “recent surveys” show 30 percent of Skico visitors ranked environmental sustainability as an important factor when choosing a travel destination. That is up from about 10 percent five years ago, according to O’Donnell.

Hanle said the Skico is basing that assessment on its internal surveys of customers. He said the company isn’t dismissing the Z Group’s findings from 2001. Officials just believe environmental issues have become significantly more important since the undertaking of that study.The “Save the Snow” ads are only part of the Skico’s print ad campaign. More traditional ads, featuring skiers and snowboarders, will appear in magazines such as Powder, Freeskier and TransWorld Snowboarding, Hanle said.’Risk worth taking’Former Skico public relations director Jeanette Darnauer, who now owns and operates a PR and marketing firm in Aspen, said “there is no question they’re taking a risk” with the global warming ad campaign. The risk, she said, is that it won’t get noticed or won’t motivate people.But Darnauer gave the Skico credit for being bold and different. She thinks the risk will pay off.”I admire them for sticking their neck out like this,” Darnauer said.

“Cause marketing” can work when a company is sincere about its efforts, she said, and the Skico has established itself as the environmental leader in the ski industry.Even if the Skico gets skiers motivated about global warming, can it inspire them to book a vacation and buy a lift ticket? “I personally believe it will pay off. It’s a question of when,” Darnauer said.The Skico’s “Save the Snow” ads don’t attempt directly to sell lift tickets. They don’t say anything about skiing Aspen. Instead they direct readers to visit a new web site, at, that shows what the Skico is doing and what individuals can do to combat global warming.The Skico is confident they will garner attention.”It’s a risk worth taking, if it is a risk,” Hanle said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is