Outdoor Brands Say Bear Grylls Will Remain Potent Pitchman

Jun 13, 2012

Topic: Business

When “Man vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls and Discovery Networks parted ways in March over a contract dispute, some feared the outdoor industry was losing its most potential pitchman.

After all, during its six-year run, “Man vs. Wild” has reached hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide and reigned as one of the most popular non-sports cable programs among 18-to-49-year-old males. The show and its spin-offs are widely credited with helping Discovery Networks establish itself within this coveted demographic.

When contacted last week, executives with two companies that renewed endorsement agreements with Grylls this year say they are as enthusiastic as ever.

“I used to work at Nike and the world did not stop turning when Jordan stopped playing,” said Lindsey Hayes, president of Craghoppers North America, which is launching an expanded Bear Grylls line of apparel in the United States this fall.

Hayes notes that that by the time the last “Man vs. Wild” episode airs, Grylls will likely have launched his next television project. In the meantime, he has hardly disappeared from the limelight. As Chief Scout for 28 million Scouts worldwide, he remains highly visible in the outdoor community. His autobiography “Mud, Sweat and Tears” rocketed to the London Sunday Times bestseller list in May within weeks of being published. Millions of Americans have seen his Degree antiperspirant commercial, his appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno or him throwing the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game.

While some in the outdoor recreation community may look down their noses at Grylls, others argue he may be just what the industry needs.

“The right celebrities have an aspirational draw that crosses activities and categories,” said Corey Maynard, vice president of marketing for Gerber, which rolled out the first series of a 10-item Bear Grylls assortment in February 2011. “You don’t have to be an actual survivalist to know and admire Bear — which brings people into your category in a way that is very difficult to accomplish through traditional advertising.”

Celebrity endorsements are tough to pull off in the outdoor space, where credibility is built on authentic experience as an outdoor adventurer or athlete. For this reason, most outdoor brands put their marketing dollars into sponsoring athletes and explorers, who also serve as product testers, contribute to design, generate content and occasionally put their name on a line. Rarely does an outdoor personality’s celebrity reach beyond a core demographic and have the potential to draw non-enthusiasts, which can be key to expanding participation in outdoor recreation and sales of outdoor gear.

“A lot of people in the industry will be skeptical of someone like Bear but will gladly stand by an athlete,” said Hayes, who noted that Grylls remains the youngest Brit ever to summit Mount Everest. “But it was quite interesting last year to see all of the athletes queue up to get his signature at Outdoor Retailer. You or I might not know some of those athletes, but if you walk down the street with Bear, you can be sure he will be recognized.”

Maynard said the media impressions generated by Grylls are “too ridiculous to even report,” but his impact can also be measured at point of sale.

“The proof of the value of his endorsement is in the performance of the line,” Maynard said. “The products are placed and are top sellers in nearly every retailer that carries outdoor/sporting goods products.”
Gerber and Craghoppers declined to disclose details of their agreements with Grylls, but generally a portion of a celebrity’s compensation in such deals is tied in part to sales of the products they endorse.

“It’s not just about celebrity endorsement, where we will pay X if you use our product,” said Hayes. “He is actively involved in design and works very closely with the marketing team in the U.K.”

Gryll’s popularity in the United States played a major role in Craghoppers’ decision to recruit U.S. dealers at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this past January, said Hayes, who opened the company’s U.S. headquarters in New Hampshire in September.

“The States can be very attractive because of scale and size, however, it can also be the death of many European brands who try it,” said Hayes. “Bear is one of the primary reasons why Craghoppers ventured to the States.”

What’s next for Grylls? His latest blog entry says that in addition to working with Craghoppers and Gerber, he is collaborating with Bushnell to bring out a new line of binoculars and GPS instruments. He is also working with the Australian SUP brand Coreban to develop a new line of stand-up paddleboards and accessories, building his online store, working with the Scouts, making TV appearances and working on films, mobile apps and even video games.

“And as for the new TV shows,” reads the entry, “… well, watch this space!!”