Snowboard Maker Goes From 'Action Porn' to Big-Screen Documentary

Not Deterred by Mountain Dew's Flop, Burton to Put Marketing Muscle Behind Film

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LOS ANGELES -- Less than a year after Mountain Dew went flat with a full-length documentary about snowboarding, another marketer is suiting up to give it a try. Only this time, the brand is bringing with it some friends eager to target the young demo the film's expected to appeal to.
Burton has marketing support and a buzz-building tour for its snowboarding documentary 'For Right or Wrong.'




Burton Snowboards has funded "For Right or Wrong," a 90-minute documentary on what it's like to snowboard for a living, following the lives of five professional snowboarders on and off the mountain as they travel to various locations around the world.



Motorola, Sobe, Bud Light and Subway are on board to promote the project, which was produced by Mandalay Entertainment, a Hollywood production company known for films such as "Into the Blue" and "Sleepy Hollow."



26-city buzz tour

Burton has already begun drumming up buzz for the film through a 26-city tour that screens a 60-minute version to attendees. An estimated 50,000 people, made up mostly teens and 20-somethings, are expected to attend the invite-only events.



Motorola, Sobe and Bud Light -- companies that Burton has long worked with in the past -- are sponsors of the "For Right or Wrong Tour." Motorola has paired up with Burton for the past three seasons, and together are developing the Audix, a line of jackets with built-in cellphone and iPod technology. Sobe has been a sponsor of Burton's events for the past eight seasons. Bud Light is a sponsor of the "For Right or Wrong Tour" and all after-parties, which are not open to underage drinkers, following the screenings.



Burton hopes that those 50,000 will be revved up enough by what they see to spread the word and reach 7 million additional people by posting their thoughts about the film on websites and blogs across the internet or through e-mail and text messages, said Bryan Johnston, VP-global marketing, Burton Snowboards.



"Basically, we're showing a version of the movie to the core audience of trendsetters and leaders that will build momentum for the movie for a larger audience," Mr. Johnston said. "All the kids on the bleeding edge of what's happening in snowboarding."



7 million brand 'storytellers'

That 7 million could then ultimately reach 35 million general moviegoers by the time the movie unspools in theaters. "Once we get them brought into the process, they do the majority of the marketing and storytelling for us," Mr. Johnston added.



But they won't be doing all the marketing for the film, budgeted at less than $5 million, which Burton fully funded.



In addition to the tour, Subway will roll out a kids-meal program, in December and January, which will give away 5 million DVDs to consumers featuring 16-minutes of the film that will essentially serve as a teaser.



The film isn't Burton's first foray into filmmaking. The company's founder, Jake Burton, has spent the past 20 years producing straight-to-video movies for action-sports enthusiasts. An estimated 16 snowboard-specific films are produced for that market per year -- typically, between 5,000 and 40,000 copies of each film are sold.



Action porn

But those films are often labeled as "porn" by their fans -- with viewers simply getting shot after shot of action sequences and never much of a story.



"It's all action, action, action," Mr. Johnston said. "What happened before and after never gets played out."



Burton and Mandalay went a step further with "For Right or Wrong," shooting 400 hours of footage last year of riders tackling the slopes on four continents.



"The idea behind the film is to tell the complete story of what it took," Mr. Johnston said. "The breakthrough that we made is there's storytelling."



Nor is "For Right or Wrong" the first project Burton has produced with Mandalay. The companies produced "White Space," a 30-minute documentary about snowboarders that aired during NBC Sports' coverage of the 2005 Burton U.S. Snowboard Open.



"When we set out to do this thing, we wanted to make sure that they served their audience," said David Salzberg, president of the Mandalay Integrated Media Entertainment and Mandalay Sports Action Entertainment divisions. "We wanted to look for innovative ways to keep their audience turned on. You experience this brand. It's an additional experience that we wanted [the audience] to feel off the mountain and make them want to be on the mountain."



Success for Burton would be to have "For Right or Wrong" reach anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million people via DVD sales -- connecting with audiences the way successful documentaries such as the surfing themed "Riding Giants" or "Step Into Liquid" or the skateboarding film "Dogtown and Z-Boys" did. At the same time, the company hopes to increase the interest in snowboarding among consumers.



Growing the business

"If we grow the world of snowboarding, our business will grow. If we bring in more people and make it more accessible, that will only be positive for the business," Mr. Johnston said. Burton already dominates the snowboarding apparel and equipment industry with a 40% market share.



In addition to ticket and DVD sales, Burton will also closely monitor its relationships with retailers, tracking overall sales and consumer impressions of the project.



"They will tell you what worked or what didn't right away," Mr. Johnston said. "They will say, 'Don't waste your money doing this anymore.'"



Burton's film follows Mountain Dew's attempt late last year to appeal to the same young-male demo with its own feature-length snowboarding documentary, "First Descent." That film, however, failed to lure audiences into the theaters, earning a scant $751,000 at the box office over its 21-day theatrical run.



Lack of promotional effort

The problem may have been the marketing. Mountain Dew and Universal Pictures, which distributed the film, didn't spend much to promote the project, focusing primarily on online ads and word-of-mouth.



But Burton and the promotional partners it has lined up plan to spend nearly $3 million on their campaign.



At the same time, Burton as a brand has a stronger presence in the snowboarding scene than Mountain Dew.



"We wanted the Mountain Dew film to be a success," Mr. Salzberg said. "But they weren't the actual innovator in the space. You're not riding Mountain Dew cans down the mountain. They're not that lifestyle."



"For Right or Wrong" has yet to land a studio distributor, but Mandalay and Burton are in talks with one, which they declined to disclose.



Either way, the companies are looking for a limited 60-day theatrical release sometime between January and March. The company hopes that by net fall, it will be able to distribute the film on DVD, TV and pay-per-view, which Burton and Mandalay know will generate much of their revenue.



But at the end of the day, Burton's film must still appeal to its core customer.



"You always have to think about how to stay real and relevant," Mr. Salzberg said. "The minute you lose those things, the battle in that youth market is an almost impossible thing to win."
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