Risk marketing in sports: where does responsibility lie?

Students of emlyon business school’s MSc in Sports Industry Management recently attended a presentation given by Blaise Agresti, the Global Sales Director of Petzl. Blaise is a former member of the Gendarmerie Nationale specialized in skiing and mountaineering, and is currently undertaking an Executive MBA at emlyon business school.

Blaise shared his valuable insight with the students on what he calls ‘risk marketing’ in the sports industry.

What is risk marketing?


Blaise’s concept of risk marketing is this: sports marketers are increasingly promoting their brands through risky or extreme sports and the overt suggestion of danger.

As Quartz media states: “Almost all of the videos on the GoPro YouTube channel are dangerous stunts performed by professionals”. Should marketers have a responsibility to curb images of professionals performing extreme sports when they are primarily selling their equipment to amateurs?

Beyond the brand: how marketing can impact the real world


It’s fair to say that marketing has a profound impact on culture. Blaise pointed out that this has always been true by demonstrating how images of sport have reflected current opinion throughout history.

He contextualised powerful examples of historical and contemporary media – from the first paintings depicting the men who scaled Mont Blanc in 1786, through to the propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1936 film Olympia, and the free-spirited ideal behind the counter cultural rock climbing scene in California in the 1950s and 1960s.

These images all had a direct impact on how the public perceived sports, and reflected the mood of the time. Today’s digital culture magnifies this impact because of the ease of sharing images via social media. Each post by brands such as Go Pro and Red Bull creates a lot of engagement, and many of their stunts go viral.

Let’s consider Blaise’s first question to the students – to what extent are people practicing a sport or activity because they really want to, or because marketing has influenced them to?

The vocabulary and imagery of ‘risk marketing’


Today, brands like North Face, GoPro, and RedBull use images and marketing messages that promote heightened and extreme versions of outdoor adventure sports.

The images used in marketing campaigns are of sportsmen and women who constantly push the boundaries of what is possible. They use words like ‘fear’, ‘crazy’, and ‘extreme’ in their marketing to create the buzz of danger.

Blaise’s presentation questioned this tactic, and forced the students to think about the consequences of these messages, and the responsibility of marketers in encouraging risky behaviour.

Brands are having to think more and more about their marketing messages and consumers expect them to take a stand on issues. MSc in Sports Industry Management students are recognising that their future job as managers in the sport industry includes the responsibility to think ‘collectively,’ and not just about the brand.

As a former Commander of the CNISAG, Blaise has plenty of experience in genuine crisis management – skills that have been transferable when dealing with brands. As Blaise states: “Preparation, anticipation and decision-making are perhaps the main lessons”. Anticipating crises is an integral part of marketing.

Some brands are already implementing a change in their marketing. Brands like Salomon value a more inclusive, ‘friendly’ approach to outdoor sports marketing, making it more accessible to the non-professionals, or those who don’t want an ‘extreme’ experience.  Building a communication or marketing strategy in the sports industry is not just building a brand’s presence or image. The vocabulary and imagery used in a campaign has an impact on the real world, and sports marketers have a responsibility for it to be a positive one.

Benefitting from a lecture given by a professional expert such as Blaise Agresti allowed the students to broaden their knowledge on the sports industry and learn about challenges and issues that they might have never thought to look into!