How the World Surf League is Fighting to Save the Planet

Let’s take a brief pause from the usual marketing talk to look at the big picture: the world’s oceans are in poor shape. It’s going to be a challenge to overcome, and it’ll take a lot of effort on our part. Fortunately, some organizations, like the World Surf League, are leading the charge and inspiring action. The WSL operates over 230 men’s and women’s events annually, globally. Given the company’s reach, popularity, and close relationship with the ocean itself—one might say you couldn’t surf without the ocean—it has decided to educate its fanbase, to leave the site of each event better off than when they arrived, and to commit to going carbon neutral.

CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, who has left her marketing fingerprints on organizations like Adidas, the NBA, WTA, and the Rugby Football Union, is helping put this world-saving purpose and aspiration front and center. As surfing grows in popularity and gets ready for a 2020 Olympic debut, Goldschmidt is optimistic that B2B and B2C activations within her organization can help a tidal wave support roll into the world of ocean conservancy. Learn more about this, and how the company’s marketing efforts are complementing it, in highlights from her interview below. Plus, listen to the full interview here.

Tell me about the WSL’s recent marketing campaign strategy.

World Surf League is deeply committed to ocean health and wants to inspire everyone to join the pledge to Stop Trashing Waves. People are the only way to turn our climate crisis around; we’re the solution. That’s why the campaign is centered around just that: people. The tagline directly asks our audience to be that solution, while our visuals show it. Our tagline is sharp, and our visuals are inviting. By creating a space to show the individuals taking actions to be a part of that solution, we enforce a tone of optimism and community.

How has the creative concept supported that campaign message?
The provocative hashtag and campaign tagline #StopTrashingWaves is brought to life with positive and inspiring visuals, showcasing the surf community taking action. We didn’t want to focus on showing the problem, but on shining a light on solutions that inspire everyone to do their part in protecting our ocean. The campaign features a broad range of surfers including professional athletes, making the pledge and sharing personal commitments on social, supported by simple motion graphic videos that explain WSL’s commitments and provide a step-by step guide on how to get involved.
 
That sounds like it’ll easily connect with the consumers as a B2C effort, is there a B2B side?
No sport relies on the ocean as much as surfing does, and the WSL takes seriously its responsibility to protect our oceans and beaches amid this devastating climate crisis. These commitments position the WSL as a leader in global professional sports with a genuine commitment to ocean conservation and being part of that is a benefit to our partners. This is a really important issue, and by taking a stand the WSL makes itself even more appealing to the next generation of consumers. We know that sustainability is important to many brands, and our recent partnership with IKEA is a great example of this. IKEA and WSL will team up for a project to raise awareness about the climate crisis and inspire action to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans, as well as collaborating on a jointly designed surf-centric range of products, using recovered ocean-bound plastic where possible.

How do you approach media?  
The integrated global marketing campaign launches on social, including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat as well as digital display and video placements, email, OOH—and is further supported via grass root marketing in surf centric regions, where we will host #StopTrashingWaves paddle outs on International Surfing Day (June 15). In addition, many brands and influencers who partner with the WSL offered to participate and amplify the campaign. Key markets are the U.S, Australia, Brazil, France and Portugal.  This is similar to our women’s initiative, and we just took it to the next level.
 
And have you focused at all on partnerships and partnership marketing?  
Our partners have been great, and they are helping spread the word by donating ad space, supporting via social and reaching out to their influencers and some are helping to organize paddle outs for June 15. We have received a tremendous amount of support and other surfing organizations inspired to also eliminate single serve plastics.  
 
Can you talk measurement?
There are a couple of ways we are measuring success. The first is reaching a certain amount of people with our commitments, and it’s being measured via social and news. The second is checking ourselves at the end of the year on our single-serve plastic, carbon offset and the projects we funded to help make places better than before.  
 
Surfing’s making its Olympic debut in 2020—how excited are you for that?
We are very excited that surfing will make its Olympic debut in 2020. It’s a fantastic opportunity to grow the sport and to bring it to the global stage. Particularly for our athletes, who are the best surfers in the world, taking part in an Olympic Games is an incredible opportunity to build their profiles. I think surfing will bring a lot to the Olympics—it appeals to a young demographic; it’s cool; it’s aspirational; it has this amazing connection with nature and ocean conversation.

The 2019 Championship Tour (CT) is the primary qualification avenue for Tokyo 2020, and I know our athletes are incredibly excited about the opportunity to compete in the Games. Olympic selection really raises the stakes for the CT this year.

As a former marketer and CMO, can you share about how your past experience has factored into your approach to being CEO?
Understanding brands and consumers, plus how to grow an audience has been invaluable. The mindset of a marketer is to always be thinking about how you can better engage and service consumers and fans, and this is essential to help us an organization make the best decisions for the WSL. Our fans are extremely passionate, and we are always looking into ways to help give them the content they crave. For example, we are about to launch a new daily news show, and it’s filled with info and tidbits surf fans can really appreciate.

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