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Yeti’s billion-dollar strategy: no celebrities, no pandering

Yeti – the Texas maker of sturdy coolers and beverages – has transcended its outdoor roots to become a pop culture jar and a random status symbol. When brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders set out to create a superior cooler for their hunting and fishing adventures in 2006, they could not have foreseen that their products would be worn and posted on social media by celebrities from the A-list like Matt Damon, Reese Witherspoon and Kim Kardashian, who have been shouted at in songs like Chris Janson’s “Buy Me A Boat” (148 million views on YouTube since 2015) or become the unofficial mascot for tailgate parties and the beach, hang everywhere. Its trendy logo hats are worn by both fashion types and sorority members. On social media, Yeti obsessives show huge collections of products and share pictures of their “YOTD” (Yeti of the day).

But while most brands embrace influencer culture, the Yeti does not take the bait.

Instead, the brand doubles what it calls the “tip of the sphere,” hardy fishermen, hunters, rodeo wranglers, back-country snowboarders and the like. “We build our products for these people,” said Paulie Dery, Yeti’s vice president of marketing, which is based at the company’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. “If it’s good enough for those people, it’s definitely good enough for a picnic.”

One of Yeti’s Australian ambassadors, Al McGlashan, is pictured handling a fish in a harsh scene.


Dan Purnell

So when Kim Kardashian posted a picture of a Yeti V Series Stainless Steel Cooler (which costs $ 800) to her 200 million followers on Instagram Stories in December 2020, Yeti did not act on it. “It’s amazing that she’s using the product and that it’s relevant in that world,” said Mr. Dery, “but it’s not like we saw her product or we’re focused on it.”

The brand, which in addition to its coveted coolers and cups sells bags, chairs and clothing, exceeded $ 1 billion in net sales in 2020 and is set to grow approx. 28% in 2021 (figures at the end of the year will be published in February). But it is to avoid the traditional marketing tricks that typically accompany a brand at its level. No celebrities, no endless #reposts, no brand “activations” in Miami Art Basel. “It’s a little strange for a marketing brand person to say this,” admitted Mr. Dery, “but a lot of my job is to pull the brand back and try to make sure we are true to ourselves without being a fashion phenomenon.”

One of Yeti’s most distinctive products, the ‘Tundra’ hardcooler series costs $ 249.99 all the way up to $ 1,299.99, depending on size.


David Mangum

It results in advertising and social media channels that are distinctly unvarnished, even downright dirty-looking. Many of the brand’s photos feature its welcoming, not-so-famous ambassadors out in nature, such as rancher Reata Brannaman, who wears chaps in a stable, or grill master Matt Horn, who hunts on horseback. In many of the ads, you have to squint to find a Yeti product that Mr. Dery said was to the great annoyance of his commercial colleagues.

While still unusual, it’s a marketing strategy we can see more of. Peter Fisk, author of business and marketing books, including “Marketing Genius” and “Business Recoded,” said, “There is definitely a shift away from celebrity influencers to more ‘authentic’ influencers.” Mr. Fish said these could take the form of expert advisors or more anonymous “people like me”, such as everyday runners who are elevated by the Tracksmith running brand. “It’s all about trust,” he said. “We know that people, especially on digital platforms, trust other real people more than institutions or traditional ads.”

Not everyone is inspired by mountaineers and pitmasters. Hailey Brooke Weiss, the founder of Power Move Marketing in Raleigh, NC, posted a TikTok that showed how she would renew Yeti’s Instagram if she were in charge. The mockup feed she made had a less aggressive wilderness feel and instead showed images with a coherent palette of light blue colors, including a dog and a child. She said her goal was to “showcase the lifestyle and the product, but in a way that is more accessible to all types of people.” She continued, “You do not necessarily have to break pigs to enjoy a drink with the Yeti.”

Reata Brannaman, a Yeti ambassador, appears here in a horse scene.


Matt Cohen

Yeti, however, is based on the notion that the more extreme outdoor images will have a trickle-down appeal to others. Som Mr. Dery from Yeti put it this way: “We do not want to exclude anyone, but that does not mean we have to go after everyone.”

This means that we probably should not expect an official collaboration with some of the more outrageous manifestations of the Yeti culture, such as the “Yeti Butts” phenomenon. On social media, women share photos of their backs, usually in bikinis, sitting on Yeti coolers. An Instagram account, @YetiButtsDaily, has nearly 100,000 followers. It’s run by Bakersfield, California, career coach Darci Smith, who told me she likes to “promote other women” through it. She said, “The way people have ridden the Yeti has made it a lot more fun … they’re cooler, right? But now we’ve made it a way of life.” Ms. Smith said she had contacted the Yeti about partnership, but she has not received a response.


What do you like about Yeti coolers and coffee mugs?

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