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No Fear is a company with an "attitude."

It shows in the company's wares-clothing lines with such names as Hellcat, Hoodlum and Bully-and in its latest ad, a commercial featuring plenty of style but not a stitch of No Fear clothing.

The 15-second spot, which broke on last week's Super Bowl telecast, features a cowboy about to take a wild bull ride, while gospel singers urge him to pass "those gates of fear." Pure image, the spot fails to mention what kinds of products the company sells.

And that's just fine by those at No Fear.

"Such a head fake, such a play, is very indicative of this brand and its personality," Marketing Director Jim Hancock said in a letter labeled "For internal use only," but distributed to the media.

So far, the formula seems to be working. The 4-year-old "attitude wear" marketer, founded by twins Brian and Mark Simo, 35, sells an estimated $200 million annually in T-shirts, shorts, jackets, backpacks, caps, wallets and temporary tattoos.

But No Fear isn't really a clothing company, Mr. Hancock said in an interview. It's a communications company whose medium happens, at the moment, to be clothing.

"Selling product is easy," Mr. Hancock said in his memo. "Creating a way of thinking, an attitude, is the tricky part. It can't be bought. It can't be forced. It must just happen."

No Fear had carved a niche in the surfing, outdoor, skiing and motorsports segments before hiring, and then dismissing, New York ad shop Amster Yard for its $6 million account. It produced the Super Bowl spot in-house.

Mr. Hancock, No Fear Creative Director Rick Bolton and Aspen, Colo.-based director Jeff Zwart conceived the spot. The goal was to communicate with both the cognoscenti and the clueless.

Traditional No Fear customers weren't used to hearing from the company through the mass media. Others, Mr. Hancock hopes, will ask "What was that?" and pursue No Fear.

So far, response to the spot has been positive, Mr. Hancock said, but wouldn't give specifics.

To maintain the mystique, he also declined to give more information about the company or its founders. "We're really not doing any interviews," he said. "We're not trying to promote ourselves right now."

No Fear, headquartered in the southern California beach town of Carlsbad, had previously crafted its image through methodical niche marketing in print and sports sponsorships. Ads ran, for example, in surfing, cycling, outdoor and skiing magazines.

The company has worked with 140 athletes, from skier Davey McCoy and drag racer Bob Glidden to a lineup of second-rung pro basketball, baseball and football celebrities.

No Fear is now poised to jump into a chasm created by the decline in interest among the hip and young in traditional sports apparel.

"You can put the Chicago Bulls logo on [clothing] only so many ways," said Andrew Gaffney, editor of The Sporting Goods Business, New York.

The "attitude wear" category, he said, though tiny, is the hottest area of the sporting goods apparel market.

Sports licensing merchandise grew an average of 15% from 1989 through '92. By 1993, however, growth had slowed to 7% and was only 5% in '94, bringing sales to $13.8 billion.

No Fear's challenge is to take the plunge into the mainstream while preserving its cutting edge personality, Mr. Gaffney said.

Meanwhile, other second- and third-tier brands are always surfacing on the California beach or in the bike shops, and can turn into stiff competition overnight, said Weston Anson, chairman of Trademark & Licensing Inc., a consultancy in La Jolla, Calif.

And then there are the big boys. Nike and other major manufacturers are starting to churn out competing "attitude" products.

Nevertheless, No Fear fears nothing. It will soon launch a shoe line of its own, going after Nike and others feet-first. As No Fear's T-shirts say: "You miss 100% percent of the shots you don't take."

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