Insights on the other side of the world: French Polynesia

I just got back from a 3-week surf trip in French Polynesia. And beside saying what everybody else would say about such “vacation”, I wanted to share my insights from an action sports business point of view.

I spent most of my time in Tahiti and Mooréa, where I felt the cultural mix was insane for such islands. Between the different types of cuisine, the presence of restaurant chains, the availability of internet connection, the make of cars being driven, the languages being spoken, and even the grocery stores’ shelves IMG_0496, one minute I thought I was back in California, the other minute I thought I was back home in France and then I felt I was swimming deeply into the Tahitian lifestyle.

The difference between Tahiti and Europe or the US? The amount of advertising messages. People there don’t spend their time on the Internet or in front of their TVs. They don’t have iPhones to check their facebook or update their Twitter page. They ride their bikes, go surfing, fishing, read the newspapers daily or they simply start drinking Hinanos at 7am in the parking lots of the surf spots with their Tahitian music outloud. They admire whomever best represent their culture and country.

What does it mean for action sports brands? An open market with tons of kids idolizing pro athletes and a few efforts to make at the local level to generate a hype in the youth market. A couple examples on how fast this can go:

1. The 2009 Billabong Pro Tahiti: Typical promotional initiatives (such as this can of Coke cross-promoting the contest, posters all over Papeete, Billabong signage all over the place and editorial placement in most Tahitian print media) were enough to drive the locals nuts over this event and make them remember that Billa is part of it. Results? You see tons of kids in the city or in rural zones wearing Billabong gear (even though, downtown, you have the three largest flagship stores (Billa, Quik and O’Neill) right next to each other, competing for the largest market share).

2. Gary Zebrowsky: Him and his wife’s wedding are the initial reason I went to Tahiti. He is a French pro snowboarder, Tahitian-born. He did 5th at the Torino Olympics in Half Pipe GaryKillingthePipeand is very likely to return to the 2010 Winter Olympics. For the global snow industry, he is just another amazing rider that hopefully will bring back a medal to France. For Tahitians, he is an icon. Everybody read about him and everybody knows what snowboarding is (even better than French people), and this thanks to him. Whatever he does that deserves attention, the Tahitian media is on it. Anyway, I didn’t notice his popularity until we were surfing Haapiti (Mooréa) GaryTubingHaapitiand one of the surfers around came to him to congratulate him on his mariage and started talking to him about the Olympics and all this good stuff. I realized how weak his endemic sponsors (but hardgoods) were for not better utilizing him on the local markets. Oakley and Nike among others have the chance to work with an icon on this particular market, but no. Nothing.

My point is that there is so few going on in these markets, people there live such a different lifestyle, far away from social media, and constant advertising messages, that all you need to do is have consistent local presence through events and PR, and you can easily win these kids’ heart. And don’t think they cannot afford such products. Most of them can.

~ CG


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