Talk about polar opposites. It’s one thing to have a spokesperson promote a clothing line without actually wearing the products that it features. It’s another thing entirely for that line to consist of state-of-the-art outerwear that offers high-tech comfort against extreme cold and for the spokesperson to wear little at all, regardless of the temperature. That’s the polarity at play in Columbia Sportswear’s online documentary style campaign for its Omni-Heat electric outerwear: clothing that heats up at the push of a button.
I had never heard of Wim Hof, the remarkable star of this campaign, until I discovered the Omni-Heat videos online, though it seems he is very well-known and has a significant following online and elsewhere. (He also has a great sense of humor, noting in one video that “no Wim Hofs were harmed in the making of this commercial.”)
I have to admit that at first pass I was more interested in finding out more about this guy than the outerwear being advertised -- but then again, how often do you see footage of anyone moving about in a frozen environment wearing only shorts and appearing not at all cold -- or even mildly uncomfortable? No goose bumps, no shivering -- nothing!
Turns out Hof is a Dutch adventurer known as the Iceman, who has been defying extreme low temperatures for decades and claims to have developed a mental thermostat that allows him to ignore intense cold. In fact, his specialty is being immersed in ice baths wearing only shorts for crazy long periods of time. As one of Columbia’s videos informs us, Hof holds 18 world records for enduring various frigid environments.
Watching all that footage of Hof cheerfully perched on blocks of ice, diving through holes carved out of ice into freezing waters and running on fields of snow makes me wonder why he hasn’t had a basic cable series of his own. (Surely he’d be a fine addition to the talent roster at Discovery Networks.) Then again, I suppose these videos for Omni-Heat collectively comprise such a show.
Whether or not these videos are successful at promoting the outerwear product is anyone’s guess. Shot on location in Kittila, Finland, 98 miles above the Arctic Circle, they’re certainly interesting to look at, and they linger in memory, but they aren’t especially stylized in a way that might attract the attention of anyone other than extreme sports enthusiasts. One thing I know for certain: There are many young men out there who will likely be so impressed with Hof’s achievements that they’ll have themselves filmed while trying a few frigid stunts of their own.
People have happily participated in sports and other outdoor recreational activities in very cold environments for centuries without the need for clothing that heats up all on its own. Me, I don’t even like heated car seats, even in the dead of winter. So the message of these videos is largely lost on me. But the videos themselves are kind of cool (no pun intended), even if the impact they might once have had is somewhat lost amid the hundreds of thousands of videos online in which people (mostly males) put themselves through all sorts of extreme discomfort just for the fun of it -- as well as possible notoriety from subsequent Internet exposure.
That is to say, the visuals of Hof on ice are eye-catching online, but perhaps not as attention-commanding as they might be on television, where unusual real-life behavior is generally confined to the series that run between commercials -- rather than the advertisements themselves.