Sunday, August 1, 2010

Marketing of Fear, Faith, and Fun.

Technically 2010 is not a leap year, but it has been for me.

Last Tuesday, my personal trainer (Marie Pier) and I did our first skydive. We did it at a place in Joliette called Voltige and it was one of the best experiences of my life. As we approached the roar of the prop plane, the guy filming our jump yelled out: “Hey Bob, why did you decide to jump out of a plane today?” I attributed the idea to my trainer (who in turn “blamed” me) but the reality is that sky diving is thrilling experience that is a leap of fear, faith and a fun. There is something appealing and exciting about looking danger in the eye, and spitting at it. It's also a curious thing to understand the sources of growing demand for the "sport".

A bit on the the adrenaline kick.
When you complete a waiver form signing your life away, stare down at the ground from 4kms above the earth from an open plane door, and free fall at 200kms per hour, your juices get going. Indeed, the effects on the body are unmistakable. One study continuously recorded ekg’s of parachuter’s first sky dive and revealed that the average jump heart rate values were 64.5 beats/min 2 weeks prior to the jump, 112.8 beats/min immediately before the jump, 170 beats/min during the jump, and 122.8 beats/min after the jump. (For the nerds out there the mean difference between each phase was statistically significant with p less than 0.001 values.) Another study revealed hyper stress levels of the first time jumper (who is really tandem jump consumer) and a 2009 study measured the impact of the jump on adrenaline. I'm stating the obvious. Common sense tells you that a thrilling activity will shock, rock, and adrenalize the body. But from a consumer point of view it is indeed a curious phenomenon how a segment of the population actively seeks out (perceived) dangerous activities. This entry, however, is not going to focus on consumer behaviors- rather it is going to examine the state of this industry and relate it to a marketing phenomenon. Let’s start with some numbers.

Shakira Shakira Shakira: The Numbers Don’t Lie
Numbers are tough to come by in terms of the total number of jumps and who is jumping, but a United States Parachuting Association (USPA) press release shared these headlines: Skydiving Soars in Popularity (July 2007) and Skydiving Soars into 2008. The guts of the releases give us some selective numbers. The total number of skydive jumps in the USA were 3 million in 2007 (highest number recorded) while the number of all sky diving licenses has steadily been increasing over the last few years. To put some historical context around these numbers, 1960 the United States had 3,500 members- in 2010 this number has grown almost ten-fold. The numbers look healthy and if people are investing in licenses (which are not cheap), the future looks robust too.

What's Driving the Diving?
So what is propelling skydiving growth? There are a bunch of factors that can be attributed including: (i) greater safety record of the sky diving due to best-practice learning that has accrued over the last several decades, improvements in equipment technologies, and “safety day”- a day reserved to review safety procedures; (ii) more organized and accessible jump sites; (iii) a growing desire for more thrilling activities. (A big drop in baseball viewership has been attributed due to the slow moving nature of the game). But I am going to focus on a forth important dimension: Social network sites.

Skydiving and other thrill activities (hang gliding, heli-skiing, etc.) are tailor made for social web sites. Less than 6 hours after I jumped, my jump was my profiled on my Facebook page. Of course, my friends who had jumped before me had also done the same thing immediately following their jumps. The social network sites enable you to rapidly share exciting visuals of the experience with your friends, who in turn can get intrigued about doing the activity themselves (See Karl's comment on the image). The images also take off the "I'm going to die" stigma away from the activity. But, it is not just on Facebook or Orukt where the images are shared. A quick search on YouTube for “sky diving” returns more than 136,000 skydiving jump videos- a huge chunk of which are the first time tandem jumps. A quick search for “sky diving” on reveals more than 52,000 photos tagged with the topic. Each effort to post the image/video is designed to share the experience with family and friends. That is a lot of “free exposure” to highly targeted audiences- folks who are invested in their friends' well-being. Furthermore, the images/videos will spark many "you gotta do it" conversations. In short, the Web is helping to do what it does best for marketers- having the customers market the product or service.

While the numbers don’t lie, they certainly don’t tell all of the truth all the time. Here I will argue that social networking sites have made sky diving more of a mainstream activity- which is affecting the extreme sport core. Just like in the late 90s when the core-target market urban kids abandoned Tommy Hilfiger (pronounced with a heavy French accent Hil-fee-gggay) because it grew in suburban mainstreet appeal, the hard-core sky divers are increasingly engaging in new, more daredevil activities like base jumping, bird man / wingsuit activities (I wonder what the car thinks at 0:54). Some of the hard core divers may engage in also sky diving activities like plane to plane jumps or sky surfing. Of course, this is healthy for the overall thrill industry (although not necessarily for all daredevils) as new categories of thrills are emerging and new adrenaline activities are spawned.

Some quirky facts about Sky Diving:

Highest Dive 83,523 ft or about 26 kms. Eugene Andreev. (

Longest free-fall: 80,380 ft (24,500 m) from an altitude of (25,457 m). Eugene Andreev. ( Let's put this in context. Our jump was 13,000 feet. Commercial jets fly around 30,000 feet. At 30,000 feet you need an oxygen to stay alive and it is easily -60C.

Highest Dive Speed 989kms/hour Colonel Joseph Kittinger stepped out of Excelsior III, a helium balloon, at an altitude of 102,800 feet or 31,330 meters.Let's put this in context. He jumped from 17,000 feet more than the highest level a plane has ever flown (85,000 feet). He fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds and reached speeds of 614 mph or 989 km/h before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet or 5,500 meters for a total falling distance of 84.8000 feet or 25,830 meters. Evidently he used a chute to stabailize his fall so he does not get a Guiness entry, but he does make adulation.

Highest free-fall w/o a parachute: Vesna Vulovi fell from 33,333 feet without a parachute and survived. According to the Guinness Book of Records, she jumped as a flight attendant after the plane she was on exploded.

Oldest skydiver: 100 years and 60 days: Age of oldest recorded skydiver (


  1. I totally buy the social media angle on this one. I can count 5 friends who have posted their jump experiences on Facebook in the last 2 years. (which is much better then when they post "just had a bagel for breakfast"...) LOL

  2. I want so badly want to try the wingsuit! Maybe over water though. They come way to close to the face of those mountains - scary stuff.

  3. Two thumbs up !! You've got balls man !!

  4. Can we see this Marie Pier person? I'd like to see the trainer that can get you to do this kind of thing...

  5. Hey Bob, seeing you are a fan of Brazil, you might want to jump from the Corcovado. Check out these guys who did here I think you'll like the energy drink sponsorship from a brand point of view. As you taught us in brand class- endowing the emotional intangibles via sponsorship. The low jumps are the most dangerous/ exciting so what could be better for an energy drink? - Rici

  6. Nice post Bob. To back up your "social networks" argument, I might argue that when you jump, the experience is (overall) thrilling so there is a strong tendency to share compare to any other things, which leads to more sharing and its like a spiral effect.

    Rock on!

  7. I don't get the Shakira reference.

  8. If you ever took one of Bob's classes, he always puts in one liner musical line references. Shakira "hips don't lie" / numbers don't lie. In my term, I remember he made this comment on how Pepsi changed its logo quite a few times and added "like a girl changes clothes" - a direct reference to my favorite song at the time Katy Perry. Supposedly he does that with a lot of songs... I don't know why I remember this.