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Young adults - the forgotten generation?

Fountain of youth: Outdoor brands increasingly court an audience for whom outdoor’s image has been too conservative

Friedrichshafen - Outdoor activities offer something for every age group: Sophisticated and practical, trendy and muted, fast-paced and relaxed. Their appeal is cross-generational. But until now, there has been just one group for whom outdoor apparel has been too staid and conservative: young people. They often want to stand out and be different, something the industry is growing increasingly aware of. New, younger collections from several different brands will be presented at the OutDoor, taking place from Thursday, 11 July to Sunday, 14 July in Friedrichshafen.

"He who has young people has the future” was a fact known well by Napoleon Bonaparte. This principle, while not exactly revolutionary, certainly makes a lot of sense. The problem is, that one the one hand, a target audience ages rather quickly, while on the other hand, decisions are often by those who have worked their way up a hierarchy, losing touch with the younger generation along the way. Many clubs and organisations could write entire books about this process. In this respect, the outdoor industry is not much different than the rest of society.

"For many years, ‘classic outdoor’ activities such as hiking and mountain-climbing were not very attractive to the broader majority of the younger target audience. Certainly, the rather classic, sometimes quite conservatively-styled products that tended to be available contributed to this”, says Marc Fisher, Head of Outdoor DACH at Adidas, describing the challenge posed by that young consumers.

Although parents were shopping for their children, sending them out into the world dressed in outdoor apparel, independent teen and young adult buyers were widely considered lost customers. This was due to the fact that outdoor clothing was often associated with a reputation for a staid, conservative style, something which the clothes’ great functionality could not make up for. Outdoor companies now need to re-convince young adults of their "hip” appeal, their image and their functionality.

"Young outdoor athletes have their own ideas and have developed some very dynamic outdoor activities, as reflected in trendy sports like bouldering, climbing, freeriding and mountain biking”, Fischer explains. "Adidas is responding with its young, colourful, athletic Terrex and Everyday Outdoor collections.”

Competitor Jack Wolfskin also has the younger generation in its sights for the 2014 season. "Until now, we haven’t explicitly appealed to that target group. The separation of our collection into Kids Outdoor and Outdoor Youth makes it possible to specifically appeal to and work more closely with this audience”, explains Thomas Zimmerling, head of marketing. "This is a new experience for Jack Wolfskin. The themes that appeal most to younger outdoor enthusiasts are exactly the ones which diverge from our classics.” With their Active Trail collection, Germany’s market leaders have already taken the first step, which is now being followed by the second step, just in time for the 20th OutDoor: the Outdoor Youth collection, with a more specific, targeted appeal to a younger audience. Whereas the Kids Outdoor collection continues to be playful, the Outdoor Youth products, with their new design and new cut, are aimed at young people, clearly differentiating between boys and girls in terms of cut and look.

But its not only the clothes’ activities, design and cuts that play a role in appealing to new customers. Brands have also adapted their communication efforts to appeal to the next generation. "We are taking new, innovative approaches when choosing our communication channels, like the Adidas Outdoor Magazine, our new iPad app that offers many interactive features and videos”, Fischer says. Digital media and social media channels are becoming more and more important in such efforts. Brands like The North Face also tie into new media, among other things, as part of their sponsorship activities. The mountaineering successes of Simone Moro are brought up in discussion in social media, as is the tracking of individual runners in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

For outdoor companies, the new target audience is not some sort of obsession with youth, but rather an expression of the shift in the perception of outdoor sport and apparel in broader society. On the one hand, sport has become faster and more youthful; on the other hand, more and more young people are discovering classic outdoor activities such as biking and hiking.  This is also shown by a 2010 study from the German hiking association: Although the average age of active hikers is currently 47 years, it has been steadily falling for years, with news reports increasingly reading: "Germany’s hikers keep getting younger.”

The OutDoor 2013 will be open from Thursday, 11 July until Sunday, 14 July, to trade visitors only (Thursday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) More information is available at www.outdoor-show.com.

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