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When outdoor merchandise retailer decided to bring on a marketing VP with strong branding expertise, it wanted someone, well, outside the outside business.

Who it got was Erick Soderstrom, an avowed indoorsman and former director of advertising for Nintendo of America.


To Mr. Soderstrom, who joined the company in May, was a blank slate, a brand with no baggage and a funny name (pronounced all-trek). But also had a lot of work to do.

According to consultancy Leisure Trends, the outdoor retail business including specialty and mass retailers is estimated at $6.7 billion in 1999; the online portion is $75 million or 1.1%. Altrec not only had to define the market, but also its place in it.


The result: A $5 million print and outdoor branding campaign that broke this month.

"We're talking to the casual weekend warrior, but we're doing it in a way that the hardcore [outdoors person] will give us respect," says Mr. Soderstrom.

Ads attempt to portray the joy of outdoor activity and the realities that go along with it. One print ad features the words "filthy Karachi hospice" in bold type surprinting photograph of a hiker standing by a mountain stream. Smaller type explains that the hiker "has just taken a drink" from the stream, not knowing that it had just been used as a toilet by a giant herd of yaks.

Had the hiker visited, the ad notes, "We could have warned him about waterborne illnesses and recommended a suitable water filtration system, so he wouldn't have had to spend four months" in the aforementioned hospice.


Before McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Seattle, developed the ads however, needed to establish what it was as a Web site. At one key meeting earlier this year, Mr. Soderstrom and 10 other executives told stories about people they knew who were passionate about the outdoors, and about sharing their knowledge of the outdoors.

After much discussion a brand personality was formed: would be cultivated as a guide; an entity that could "help people make the most of their life outside," Mr. Soderstrom says.

The guide philosophy pervades the site: In addition to a wide selection of outdoor gear, the site features its own travel magazine and community forums. Real-time help is available 12 hours a day, via an instant-messaging application that's tech team developed.


The site also offers ample opportunity for reviews written by consumers; consumer questions and and's answers; and a consumer panel that rewards participants with free merchandise.

The goal is to make the site as friendly as possible. "If someone stumbles on the shopping cart, then we're not fulfilling the guide promise," Mr. Soderstrom says.

If Internet brand-building is about creating a bond with your community, it's also about change, Mr. Soderstrom believes.

"This business is all about being fluid, so the brands are going to be that way,

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