Skullcandy Takes Co-Branding To New Levels

 

Skullcandy and DEFT's partnership best exemplifies the Utah based brand's co-branding efforts, as both company's maintain their own image while highlighting the other's.

Our sport has seen many major non-endemic sponsors come and go over the course of its rather brief history. Motocross will always be tied to the “Wrangler Grand National Championship,” the “Camel Supercross Series,” and of course, the current energy drink wars. It is these companies that helped the sport grow and stay afloat throughout the brightest and darkest moments, and it is difficult to imagine where the sport would be today without the major backing these organizations bring. One of the latest and most proactive multi-million dollar names to come in to motocross is headphone and speaker manufacturer Skullcandy. The Park City, Utah, based brand quickly became a publically traded company just eight years after its inception, stands as one of the top sold headphones in the country, and continues to grow. Its plans for expansion and marketing involve a great presence in the motocross world and this is reflected in their lines with DEFT, DC Shoes, Bell Helmets, and Answer Racing. After a discussion with Jason Kimball, Skullcandy’s Sports Marketing Specialist, we learned that this is not just another grab and run profit scheme, but is in fact a cultivated concept that runs deep within the brand.

PJ Larsen (shown), Matt Moss, and Malcolm Stewart have run the second edition of Skullcandy and Answer Racing's gear line throughout the 2012 season.

The way that motocross became one of Skullcandy’s key markets is very similar to their snowboarding tactics. “We started flowing (product to) certain athletes and tastemakers in snowboarding and skiing, and it started growing from there,” said Kimball. “I had been with the brand for a couple of years and was always passionate and interested in moto, and I saw an opportunity there. No one was playing in that market with headphone or audio accessories and I saw so many people at amateur rounds or Supercross rounds wearing headphones in the pits or on the line, getting hyped up for their race.” This opening was easy for Skullcandy to slide into, since they had previously established themselves as a core brand with snowboarders, skaters, and BMX riders. With a line of goods and recognition, it was now just a matter of being seen on the right racers. “The first people I started hooking up with product were in the amateur scene with Dean Wilson and Cooper Webb. I gradually did it for the first year and a half to two years, before we made an ‘official’ program in moto. From there, we made things official and got involved with a few teams like Troy Lee Designs.” By collaborating with the growing Troy Lee Designs Honda team, Skullcandy had aligned itself not only with a team, but also with one of the biggest names in the sport. “It came together in a mutual way. I reached out and they reached out, and we saw that as a good start because they as a brand have a pretty good history in motorsports as a whole.” These early roots helped the brand learn what consumers in our fickle and ever changing market are attracted to.

Skullcandy's Bell Moto 9 paint scheme has been widely praised and is based off of the headphone giant's "Lurker" design.

Part of Skullcandy’s success can be attributed to the way the brand put their logo on virtually every other company’s product in an innovative and detailed way. Because nearly every employee partook in a snow activity, all knew what their initial demographic called for. Goggles with built-in headphones and jackets that came pre-wired with waterproof ear buds quickly became commonplace in snow and ski circles, but as the growth began, they saw those same ideas could not carry over to the every sport, especially in the motocross world. It is there that Kimball and the designers realized that they would have to label standard motocross items with the Skullcandy name and look. “I didn’t want to go in and be another brand, even though we are already different because of what we make. We wanted to come in and make our mark,” said Kimball. One collaboration was with indie glove maker DEFT, which resulted in a product that was perfect blend of the two pioneer brands. “The two gloves that we have out merchandise and match with headphones and ear buds that we have in our line. So instead of just going in and throwing a logo on the product, there is a story behind it.” Skullcandy still maintains creative control over all lines with Bell, Answer Racing, and DC Shoes, but it is the detail and similar style that all in the project share that makes each product unique.

Chad Reed has become the icon for the brand in motocross. The company joined Reed's start up team in 2011 and have extended their commitment for years to come.

In the summer of 2011 Skullcandy became a publically traded company, a sure sign of their growth and status within the electronics market. Currently the company is worth just over 400 million dollars, but Kimball said this does not affect the brand’s vision or values. “We still have the creative control, but there are more hoops to jump through, budget wise. We still pick and choose what we want to do.” This is evident in the brand’s refined business model, “Skullcandy 2.0,” in which they plan to branch out of the entry-level arena and into the competitive world of premium sound that is dominated by Monster and Bose in a campaign titled “Supreme Sound.” They have made a similar switch in the roster of athletes they support, shedding many lower tier racers in order to build their elite with increased resources. “We can do more for those guys and do more projects with them. We have gotten away from the team sponsorships and focus more on the individuals that fit our style.” This new strategy can be seen most clearly in Chad Reed’s TwoTwo Motorsports program, as the skull logo is one of the few but dominant sponsors of the flourishing team. “We want the supreme athletes, the best of the best. But we have stayed loyal and true to a lot of the guys on our program. Dean is still there, Cooper is still one of our amateurs, McGrath is our ‘legend,’ and Chad has done wonders for us. And then we have guys like Nick Wey and Justin Brayton, who have been with us since day one.” Knowing that many consumers in the market fall in the teen to early adult range, the age of amateur racers, they have partnered with KTM to establish the “Orange Brigade” and started the “Headphones for Holeshots” prize program at this winter’s James Stewart Amateur Nationals. All of these tactics show that the brand is looking to grow, but not forget where they came from.

Racers wearing headphones just before they lined up, much like Lance Vincent does here, gave Jason Kimball the idea to branch the then "board based" brand over to motocross.

There are currently more than thirty collaboration lines in the headphones maker’s catalog, an eclectic mix of sports and fashion icons. NBA superstars Dwayne Wade, Blake Griffin, and Kobe Bryant all have signature lines and nearly every model in Dolce and Gabbana’s Spring 2012 Fashion Week runaway exhibit had SC/D&G headphones draped around their necks. These are widely used concepts, but the execution is what makes them unique. You see a product that is a blend of both involved, keeping one brand from overpowering the other. That regard and attention is what pulls the consumer in, something that Skullcandy has done in everything they have touched. “We did not want to come in and buy logo space,” says Kimball. “We wanted to do it and do it right.” In less than a decade, one small concept has become a worldwide symbol and is now on the verge of taking control of the market. Although domination is what the company plans for, they have not forgotten the consumers and athletes that helped them get them to this level. Kimball sums it up best by stating, “We are all full committed, and I think that people see that.”

KTM's Mike Sleeter (number 111) and Skullcandy created the "Orange Brigade," a squad of the Austrian brand's elite amateur racers.