Awards celebrate marketing innovation, courage

Last month, experts representing some of today’s leading brands gathered at an exclusive conference in Banff, Alberta. In this special feature, we share highlights from that event, including ways that these innovative marketers are building loyal brand followings.

The Gathering’s eight winning brands – chosen from a field of 100 marketing leaders – exemplify the best of North America’s cult brands. 

The Gathering’s eight winning brands – chosen from a field of 100 marketing leaders – exemplify the best of North America’s cult brands. 

It wasn’t GoPro’s marketing team that first discovered the brand’s powerful appeal – it was the fans, says Paul Crandell, GoPro’s vice president of marketing. “We knew we had a great product but we only learned that the brand was really special when we saw what people were saying on social media,” he explains.

Footage from GoPro devices has taken social media channels by storm and Mr. Crandell attributes this to the highly engaging and authentic nature of the content. “These are passionate moments captured in real time,” he says. “Not like your regular ‘smile and say cheese’ pictures.”

Extreme sports enthusiasts were quick to embrace GoPro’s durable cameras that can be mounted almost anywhere. And even though the devices have now found many other applications – from recording favourite family moments to documenting the work of firefighters and first responders – GoPro makes a point of supporting its fan base by backing adventure sports projects and events. “It’s important to stay loyal to the early adopters who helped to amplify the brand,” says Mr. Crandell.

This dedication to brand identity has earned GoPro the title Cult Brand of the Year as well as the Pinnacle Award at The Gathering, an exclusive conference and awards gala that celebrated top marketers in Banff, Alberta, on February 19 and 20.

Chris Kneeland, CEO of marketing services firm Cult Collective and co-founder of The Gathering, believes that GoPro’s rags-to-riches story has the power to inspire others.

Making the success even more meaningful is the fact that the brand excels in a category that’s past its prime. “Digital camera sales are suffering double-digit declines as smartphones have swept the industry. But GoPro is bucking the trend and thriving,” he says.

In addition, GoPro inspired The Gathering audience with a brand philosophy and business strategy that places the company in the content business, rather than the digital camera business, giving it the potential to become a dominant force in crowd-sourced content, film editing and storytelling.

Athletes like slopestyle skier Kaya Turski make up a substantial portion of GoPro’s fan following.   gopro 

Athletes like slopestyle skier Kaya Turski make up a substantial portion of GoPro’s fan following. gopro 

In preparation for The Gathering, the Cult Collective looked at more than 100 brands from across North America to identify the leaders, aiming to produce an event that motivates marketers to do more with their careers.

“People believe courageous marketers get to do cool stuff because they work for cult brands, but the opposite is true. The brands are cult-like because of how the marketers behave,” Mr. Kneeland says, adding that despite the success stories of unconventional techniques nurturing thriving brand cultures, the shift in marketing isn’t happening fast enough for his taste.

“There are too many old dog CMOs and CEOs who are uninterested in learning new tricks,” Mr. Kneeland says. “While it’s easy to identify cult brands and look upon them with envy, in reality the only thing stopping people from copying their success is courage. Non-cult brands are scared to rock the boat.”

A brand that is unafraid of making waves is the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), says Cathy Tull, the organization’s senior vice president of marketing.

As proof, she mentions an especially bold campaign. “When nude photos of Prince Harry surfaced after his trip to Vegas in 2008, we needed to respond,” she says. The LVCVA created an ad and poster campaign, advising to “keep calm and carry on, Harry.” It also reminded people of the code: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

The posters triggered a big reaction, especially on social media. “We spent $144,000 on the whole campaign. In return, we had $23 million worth of media value and 104 million impressions editorially,” says Ms. Tull.

She especially welcomed the discussion about Vegas as a destination where “you can let your hair down” because, to her, it is a place that exemplifies adult freedom.

Ms. Tull describes her city as “courageous, bold and unapologetic,” adding that those attributes also define a great brand.


What’s the secret to transforming consumers into devoted fans and inspiring fervent brand loyalty?

The Gathering, organized by marketing services firm Cult Collective and presented by The Globe and Mail, brought together cult brands from across North America on February 19 and 20 in Banff, Alta., for an exclusive conference and awards gala.

After considering more than 100 New Age marketing leaders from across North America, the event’s organizers selected eight winners: Harley-Davidson, NHL, Madden (EA Sports), Saskatchewan Roughriders, Red Bull, GoPro, Las Vegas and Urban Outfitters.

Joining representatives of these brands were marketing experts who shared their insights on what makes brands successful. There was an all-around enthusiastic response to the first of what will become an annual event – the next Gathering is planned for April 2015.


416 million

views of GoPro’s 1,591 videos

100 million

viewers watched the live stream of Red Bull’s Stratos project

104 million

editorial impressions were documented for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s Prince Harry campaign

40 million

fans voted in Madden NFL 25’s cover contest

35 million

hits on YouTube of WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video

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