The X-Treme Files

Why today's fringe culture is tomorrow's cute ad campaign--and how the cutting edge bites back

Chad DiNenna won't say the word. It's as if someone were standing by with a bar of Safeguard, ready to wash out his mouth. "We, uh, don't like to use that word around here," says DiNenna, 28, co-founder of Nixon Watches, an action-sports-oriented watch company in Encinitas, California.

What word, Chad?
"It's kind of a bad word to us . . . ." Heavy pause.
You mean, "extreme?"
"Yeah," DiNenna sighs.

But, Chad, we plead. Isn't Nixon's customer base precisely the one marketers mean when they use the word "extreme?" These are young, hip, hyperkinetic surfers and snowboarders. They're lifestyle icons, trendsetters. Why, they're so extreme, we'd even call them X-treme.

But not DiNenna: "My partner [Andy Laats, 32,] always says, `If you had a bar and called it Winners, there'd be no one but losers inside.' " Apparently by the same token, true extremists aren't enthralled by X-Games T-shirts and Boston Market Extreme Carver sandwiches.

Meanwhile, mainstream consumers who are supposed to delight in images of street-luging, bungee-jumping, sky-surfing daredevils in ads aren't necessarily trying these antics themselves. "I'm sure less than 5 percent of the population has ever participated in any of these activities," says marketing expert Susan Mitchell, author of American Generations: Who They Are, How They Live, What They Think (New Strategist, $79.95, 607-273-0913). Ditto for other stereotypical trappings of Generation X-cess: full-body tattoos, illegal drug use, blue lipstick. "It's an image," explains Mitchell. "The real Generation X is getting married and raising families."


Freelance writer Gayle Sato Stodder (gsato@pacificnet.net), co-author of Entrepreneur Magazine's Young Millionaires (Entrepreneur Media Inc., $14.95, http://www.entrepreneur.com), is still trying to become a slacker.

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The X-Treme Files.

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