Last month, Alex Honnold did what is unthinkable to even experienced rock climbers–he scaled a 2,500 foot limestone wall without any ropes in El Portrero Chico, Mexico. With cameras capturing his every moment, sometimes looking down to catch a glimpse of the thousands of feet beneath him, the six-minute video felt like at least six hours. And it made my stomach churn more than a few times.
Although the event is real, and Alex actually climbed the wall as the video showed, it’s now an advertisement for The North Face. And despite the fact that I’ve only ever seen suburban teenagers wearing North Face gear to complement Ugg boots, leggings, and iPhones, the brand is preferred by elite outdoor athletes–like rock climbers. So I think North Face bull’s-eyed their target market with this ad.
I also like this type of storytelling advertising. It looks like it could be a snippet from a movie, with the subtle yet thrilling background music and the bird’s-eye views looking down the giant rock as Alex clung to the almost nonexistent footings. And, like I would have done in the theater, I sat here staring at screen with my mouth agape and eyes wide, thinking that he can’t possible be doing this. “Don’t put your foot there!” I told him through my computer. “NO! That’s too far! You can’t reach it! No, no, no, not THAT way!” And even though I was scared to sit through the entire video for fear that the 2,500 foot height would freak me out too much, I had to see how it ended (although I knew North Face wouldn’t have made the video if he had fallen). I was glued to the screen for a six-minute advertisement, and that’s rare for me.
Overall I think the company made a smart decision with this commercial. It was exciting and memorable and directly related to their target audience. I also think it was a great choice to focus on a real climber instead of hiring an actor and staging the ad, because it makes the adrenaline so much more realistic. Not to mention Alex got some publicity out of the deal.
I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to another commercial like this in the future from North Face, but I’m scared for Alex’s life. So I can wait awhile before he decides he wants to something this insane again.