I don’t surf. I tried it once while my wife took pictures and the difference between what I felt like and what I actually looked like was so humiliating that I never set foot in the ocean again – that and the sharks has kept me off the waves for long a lifetime. But that is not to say that I dislike either surfers or surfing. In fact I’d even go as far as to say that there’s something awe inspiring about big wave surfing. Something that you can’t find in other sports. Extreme downhill or heavy weight cage fighting comes with an adequate amount of force but there is something unique about how a surfboard moves on curved water. It’s elegant in a way that a bike on a rock or a fist against a cheek can never be. And this is not a better or worse argument, it’s simply a quality of surfing that other extreme sports can’t lay claim to.
Much more can be said about surfing. And if you leave surfers to their own devices they’ll bore you to death with stories about a feeling that allegedly only a surfer can know. The original maxim ‘only a surfer knows the feeling’, can logically be amended and applied to just about any sport and it will ring as true on the cricket field as it would on the ocean, but for some reason, surfing managed to own it.
The sport has generated an almost religious cult that shuts up like a clam when you interrogate the assumptions it makes about itself. When you really question a surfer, he or she will find safe refuge in that last fact that you wouldn’t believe in surfing until you’ve experienced surfing. I do however suspect that their is truth to the claims they make. But true as it may be, to the average man on the street, the pseudo philosophical rantings of surfers are often more alienating than endearing (this also can be said for any sport).
As a Cape Tonian I know a lot of surfers and none of them are beach bums. They are fully functional members of society. They surf like I hike on weekends. It’s simply another one of the many benefits offered by the Cape Town lifestyle. But there is still this notion of spirituality in surfing. Whenever you talk to a suited surfer heading to his job in a finance company or a law firm, you get the standard health and fitness answer along with something else. ‘Surfing is just…’ and then there are hand gestures and clenched lips. ‘There is something more’. I’m sure. It’s becoming less and less fashionable to make supernatural claims without expecting some social judgment. Or should I rather say, as soon as you make a supernatural claim, you can no longer draw benefit from the perception of a pure rationalist.
People do every once in a while indulge their more romantic selves – but only for a second. Before anyone else can realise what happened, they judge themselves, jokingly calling their opinion ‘their inner beach bum’ or an equally belittling reference. This mechanism allows people to give air to a belief but protecting themselves through modulating the conversation. It makes me happy to know that I don’t have to wade through hours of surf conversation but in a way it’s a bit lame that one cannot air a belief – irrational as it may seem.
This juxtaposition of rational, health orientated individuals on the one hand, who at the same time embrace an ocean spirit on the other, is captured in the Lone Wolfs brand and in this TVC in particular.
The commercial opens in an honest, male voice asking simple yet deep questions: ‘Am I a man? Am I a good man? Am I meaningful to the world? Am I the kind of man that people would want to be?’ Answers aside, these are the sorts of questions that puts a lump in your throat. The voice is also shielded from being pretentious by a co-narrator who guides the questions with a naïve co-operation. The two men provide the soundtrack to rather mundane everyday visuals reminding us somewhat of those film noir monologues or even those movies from the late nineties that really delved into the existential crisis of the time. ‘What am I? Why am I?’
The conversation verges on being over the top but tumbles into pretense when, after some thought, the voice claims ‘I think I’m Gandhi’. Looking at the two from behind in a convertible, we hardly have the opportunity to judge when the man in the passenger seat throws his head back, ‘what the fuck!’ revealing the post-its on their foreheads.
Just like the suited surfer, the conversation rescues itself from judgment by firmly grasping a piece of bloke-ish pop culture. For the surfer heading to the law firm it’s a caveat like ‘who believes in the ocean rubbish anyway?’ and for the commercial it’s an old fashioned game of Forehead Detective.
This is however not he first time I’ve seen this phenomenon. The now famous cat Henri has is own little video series. The episode that really hits this nail on the head is Henri 2. It’s the same black and white styling, the same emotional monologue, striking at the core of what it means to be. But rescuing itself through the everyday and somewhat comical subject matter of the monologue. Interestingly enough, cat people are like surfers in that they constantly risk getting too carried away with their pets, often rescuing their own dignity with a clause like ‘and to think it’s just a little animal’ – or something to that effect.
The Lone Wolfs brand is however a fascinating brand and the TV commercial is the tip of the iceberg. Their other videos and their social media all support this ‘artsy philosophy’ vs. ‘blokes having fun’ mentality, all brought to life through this Pinky and the Brain duo. It combines objects of desire with American surf culture in a way that takes both serious enough to be respected but not serious enough to be either pretentious or too beach bummey.
What is important to note here is that neither Henri or Lone Wolfs worked only because it’s funny. It’s funny because it hit the underlying culture square on the head and subsequently it’s brilliant. Advertising and branding is becoming less and less about telling and more about showing that you are part of the clan. You get it. Your product isn’t great because you’ve get the best tools and the smartest people. Your product is amazing because you get it, you’re not talking to a target audience. Instead you’re just a brand making a cool ad for your pals after, which you’ll go on to make an amazing product because you get it. And like the people you’re talking to, you are also obsessed with (in this case) surfing.