How Embracing Dissent Helped To #MakeSkateOlympic

The biggest challenge many brands face in social is finding a way to entertain dissent without flame wars blowing up the most nobly intentioned effort. One way to accomplish this: Embrace opposing points of view from the get-go, as the Spanish skateboard company NOMAD did in its recent global campaign to #MakeSkateOlympic.

Skateboarders take ornery pride in their outsider status. NOMAD itself was founded in 2001 by street skaters looking to create an alternative to “expensive American brands and their average styles.” And the company knew it was trying to execute the public relations equivalent of a 720 Gazelle Flip when it stuck its neck out to become the first skateboard manufacturer anywhere to support skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport.

A petition to the IOC signed by more than 7,000 skaters sums up the opposition’s POV: “Skateboarding is not a ‘sport’ and we do not want skateboarding exploited and transformed to fit into the Olympic program. We feel that Olympic involvement will change the face of skateboarding and its individuality and freedoms forever.”

As you might imagine, social media comments tend to be a tad more explicit. But Iván Moreno Puché, the founder of both NOMAD and #MakeSkateOlympic, says that the sport needs the imprimatur of the Games to grow. Among other positives, it will prod governments to fund federations that will, in turn, see to it that skate parks are built to more exacting standards than the “crappy” ones that are most common around the world.

Moreno credits his longtime agency, LOLA MullenLowe of Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon, with coming to him with the idea of capturing attention with a positive, direct positioning of #MakeSkateOlympic, which would then evolve into an open discussion about the pros and cons.

“You cannot just say positive things when there are people who think completely the opposite,” says Moreno.

And although the outcome was hazy -- a major distributor immediately cut ties to the company, and a sponsored rider dropped the brand -- NOMAD’s slogan reflects the ethos behind its decision: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

Last April, NOMAD commissioned a “Make Skate Olympic” mural in the heart of Barcelona. Within three hours, graffiti changed the sentiment to Don’t Make Skate Olympic. The debate really caught fire when the company posted both versions on the pro-Olympic movement’s Facebook page.

It had also started an image-only Instagram page designed not to capture followers, but simply to bring attention to the cause by sharing the platform with skaters and influencers.

That incited conversations  in other venues such as Dogway magazine, Vice Media’s The Creators Project and dontdoitfoundation, also on Instagram, with sentiments such as: “Skateboarding's a culture for kids who don't fit in or want to adhere to the rigid structures in sports and schools and work.”

Documentary Of A 32-Day Journey To Tokyo
Meanwhile, Nomad had commissioned a documentary by Brazilian filmmaker Nixon Freire, "The Road to Tokyo"(see below). A five-person production crew and two drones (one crashed) followed the 32-day journey of an “Olympic Torch” skateboard from Zargoza, Spain, where NOMAD is based, as eight riders passed it along to their comrades throughout Europe and Asia.

“Initially, we were the weird guys with big pants, dyed hair, traveling everywhere with a backpack and a skateboard. But little by little, it turned into a mainstream phenomenon,” Moreno says at the beginning of the 20-minute film. “The first thing we are going to generate is controversy.”

Throughout the doc, that controversy is represented through screenshots of social media comments superimposed on the lyrical images of the board wending its way over 7,543 miles (including a few detours via van, boat or plane). At the end of the journey, the board is lit up and becomes its own Olympic flame. It was then sent to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a letter signed by all the skaters who had ridden it.

Each rider had spent four days with the board/torch and skated 26 miles from each location — the same distance the Olympic Torch travels in each city. In total, 37 bandages, 56 pots of noodles, 114 black coffees and 6 packs of sandpaper were consumed. Exactly 442 images were taken and 1291 whatsapps sent.

Earlier this month, the IOC announced that in an effort to “take sport to the youth,” skateboard, karate, surfing, sports climbing and baseball/softball were being added to the 2020 Games.

NOMAD’s Moreno says a lot of the initial negativity generated by the “haters” dissipated as the campaign gained traction. “It’s always easier to just write bad things. And it’s really hard for somebody to go against everybody and start giving arguments that are positive,” he says. But that’s what’s happened over the past five months, by and large, with many of those in opposition realizing that the “two different worlds can co-exist.”

“The current mood in the skate scene is really what we were saying all along. Live and let live. Skateboarding can be whatever the individual wants it to be,” says Sarah Okrent, head of communications at LOLA. And skater joshkalis iterates that sentiment with an Instagram post that garnered more than 4,000 likes in a week.

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