This reality's turned out to be an MX5 and a Freelander and this week I should start the conversion of a Caddy Maxi. Would I swap any of them for my 13 year old's dreams? Not a chance because it wasn't the products that enticed me it was the experiences they were a gateway to. Would I have enjoyed that memorable drive across Arran, enjoying the drive too much to close the roof when showers briefly broke the sunshine, any more in a Pininfarina than in my little Mazda....I very much doubt it! Would a Discovery have given me any more pleasure to drive than the Freelander with it's sumptuous heated leather seats and elevated driving position?.... probably not. Likewise, I already know I'll have all the fun in a micro-camper that I'd have in a coach built motorhome. In the 43 years between the juvenile dreams and their fulfilment I've learned that it wasn't the Ferrari and Winnebago I wanted, it was the experiences they gave access to. Life isn't about products, it's about experiences and making them count. It's about driving roof-down in the rain, making memories that will live when the products have long since gone.
Unfortunately though, the outdoor industry predominantly markets products over experiences. Workbooks and product tags are overflowing with "features" and "specifications" - everything has to be the lightest or the biggest, it's membrane or denier size more important than what it can actually allow you to do. Of course these features and specifications matter to people like me who write about the products, but in reality who goes into a shop to buy a rucksack because they just have to own a rucksack, or a 4 season sleeping bag? No-one! People buy them because they want the experience that product can open the door to. People don't remember the make and model of the skis they hired last time they went to Switzerland, they remeber the time they had out there.
When I walk into an outdoor shop as a cunsumer I see only one brand that really seems to understand this; love them or loath them GoreTex don't try to sell me a membrane and a fistful of features they try to sell me one thing and one thing only - Guaranteed to Stay Dry. That's what I'm looking for and the "features" are just the icing. Environmental considerations aside it's the promise of being able to do the things I want to do using the product that's the prime buying incentive. Instead of promises, though, all I see is racks of how many pockets, what brand name fabric, facts, figures and techno-babble. It's my dream I want to buy, not a product.
Of course images sell dreams better than words, but in the same way that I didn't need a Ferrari to enjoy open-top driving I don't need an endless stream of extreme images of elite athletes doing the unachievable (for me). I never reached the levels of a Ferrari but the MX5 was my Ferrari experience, in the same way I'll never scale some Himalayan giant but experiences from the Lakes to the Alps have more than matched any expectations I had when I first set foot in the hills of the Peak District. Back then it wasn't images of products that inspired me, it was the landscapes and the descriptions of experiences I could aspire to replicate.
The product enables the experience, but it's the experience I'm buying into
Today the images are moving and the descriptions spoken, but in the change of media from print to TV and internet something's been lost. The age of the professional athlete and outdoor celebrity sees us bombarded with the extreme as a norm, a panorama of unachievable so wide that you lose sight of the experience itself. The professional climber and mountaineer has a place in the development of new cutting edge design but that's not enough for the industry, they also have to pay their way whether through brand appearances, social media or out-and-out product promotion. Where the written description of the experience could live within the boundaries of your experience-based imagination it's now there in 4k and as out of your league as a Ferrari was for me. But I don't see an MX5, I don't see the experiences I can aspire to. I see a lot of products promising to be the lightest, the newest, and the smartest but as more and more advertising and social media is taken in-house the message is increasingly becoming one of product, product, product and the experience becoming someone else's. If you want to sell me something sell me an experience and make it one I can achieve using your products but remember we're not all Ferraris and Winnebagos.