“We don’t want to talk about the trailer.” That was the refrain Cori Schumacher heard from the heads of the Roxy marketing department. She had just delivered more than 20 thousand signatures along with a thick stack of comments on a petition that asks the company to stop its “all sex, no surf” ads. The petition was started in response to Roxy’s teaser for the Biarritz Pro, which features a faceless blond female surfer (later revealed as Stephanie Gilmore) lolling in bed in her underwear, showering, waxing her board (close-up on her bikini top) and paddling out into the ocean (close up on her bikini bottom), but not surfing – and this, to advertise a women’s surf contest.

Many people were outraged, disappointed and/or disgusted by the sexy, surfless teaser, and signed the petition asking Roxy to “stop the sexualization of women in your marketing and advertising and instead, help to present women surfers in a light that women can be proud to be associated with and young girls can truly admire.” In 1993, Roxy pioneered the first boardshorts for women and ran with the slogan: “Fun, Bold, Athletic, Daring and Classy.” The company strayed from those admirable roots with this teaser and lost customers as a result:

As the father of two young watergirls who look up to the Roxy pros and wear a lot of Roxy clothes, this is very disappointing. Surfing and the ocean lifestyle don’t need to be sexed up and strong capable waterwomen don’t need to be objectified like this. I don’t know who you think you were targeting with this ad but this is one family right in the center of what should be your target that will be reconsidering buying Roxy products in the future. -Stephen Watkins, Thousand Oaks, California.

With many similar comments in hand, together with the 20,000+ petition signatures comprising a thick stack on 11″ x 17″ paper, I rode north last Thursday with Cori, her wife Maria, and Krista Comer, professor of Literature and Women’s Studies at Rice University in Texas and author of Surfer Girls in the New World Order.

At Roxy headquarters in Huntington Beach, Krista and I were initially excluded while only Cori was allowed to meet with Danielle Beck and Cathey Curtis, VP and Senior VP of Marketing. We cooled our heels in the modern lobby with Sheri Crummer, who shared stories of being a surfer girl in southern California in the ‘60s. Meanwhile, on a big screen on the side wall, today’s surfer girls cavorted in Roxy bikinis. After an hour, Krista was permitted to join the meeting, which continued for almost another hour. Cori has written about what went on behind those closed doors. In addition to the signatures and comments, she provided substantive documentation that would support a shift to a more performance-based marketing campaign. For example, recent studies have shown that sex doesn’t really sell in sports. Athleticism is what counts. Here are Cori and Krista talking about their visit and what comes next:

Roxy promised to review the material and invited us to a future meeting. In view of the backlash, it seems unlikely that they will go so far down the sexy road again in their advertising. Their latest contest trailer is a step in the right direction, but since Roxy made no apologies nor promises, only time will tell if more than 20,000 voices have been heard.

  • oipoodles

    The marketing team at roxy might have gotten the idea that this is what their target audience is inspired by; http://www.theinertia.com/surf/question-time-what-makes-a-girl-write-a-slutty-slogan-on-her-body/

  • Diogo

    Although I’m very in tune with the feminism feeling inherent to this article and agree with part of it, I can’t not make some remarks on what Cynthia is writing here and how some of the things she says are presented as facts when, in reality, they are just…opinions.

    First of all, just like all studies, the one you mention only reflects an opinion. Sure, they are people who study and investigate and whatsover but still, that’s their opinion and their study is done towards one thing that they want to prove. What if they wanted to prove otherwise? What if I told you that the bikini Alana’s wearing in Sports illustrated Swimsuit Issue (only sex and looks, not athleticism) sold out in two days? Sure, you can tell me that part of it may come from girls who see these surfers as beautiful people firts, then athletes. Still, they bought it. It’s pretty obvious that sex sells.

    Second. Where are the numbers that prove this: “The company strayed from those admirable roots with this teaser and lost customers as a result”. Wow, you have a quote of a father of two young girls. Awesome. I’m sympathetic with what he says. Still, don’t use this article to spread something that might not be real. Give me the numbers. Then I’ll believe you.

    Third, I have a lot of respect for Cori. Honestly, she’s doing a great job as a gatekeeper for a lot of girls out there. BUT, not all girls want to be portrayed as athletes. A lot of them want to be seen as pretty, sexy, beautiful girls. AND THAT’S FINE! As fine as wanting to be seen as amazing athlete! People like Cori have to understand that she’s just representing one side of the deal and that there are a lot of people on the other side. Neither is right, neither is wrong. At the end of the day, they are opinions and both have to be respected. Sure, some of the girls might not know that there’s an alternative but that’s where Cori, Cynthia, myself, everyone, has a role to play. Other than saying what’s right or wrong, showing both sides should be your goal. That’s doing a good job. That’s being pedagogic.

    I’m a huge fan of The Inertia and what it brought to the surf world but seriously, people need to be careful. I’m sure Cynthia has a lot of cool stuff and insights to give but, a the end of the day, unless people have real numbers to prove what they are saying, everything is just an opinion. Not a fact. Not everything you read is a fact. Please keep that mind.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Cynthia

      You can find the reference material presented to Roxy here, including further details of studies on whether sex sells in sports: http://www.corischumacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Roxy-Trailer-Petition-Delivery.pdf. Studies do not produce mere opinions, but rather are designed to test the validity of a hypothesis, producing evidence that supports it or doesn’t. In this case, there is growing evidence that athleticism is a better selling point than sex.

      If you read through the petition comments, you’ll see quite a few that mention they will no longer buy Roxy products because of the trailer.

  • Diogo

    Sorry for the typos.

  • matt obrien

    Diogo, well said.
    This anti-roxy crap is silly. Unless I am wrong, the marketing poeple at roxy are women. Or else men will women’s names. And “faceless blonde girl” in ad IS Stephine Gilmore. One of greatess [female] surfers in the sport. People need to step back and relax. 20,000 signatures is a big number but i’ll bet a small percentage in the big pic. I watched some of the heats duringthe roxy pro france & a lot of the competitors were (gasp) wearing bikins. The shock! Once again it looks like the crusade against roxy & visible flesh is ON! Go Carissa for World Champion!!

    • oipoodles

      Please read the article and its attachments thoroughly first before giving uninformed opinions, just makes you sound keyboard happy. Bikinis aren’t the problem buddy, i would surf naked if I could! The issue here is that this type of advertisement aides in legitimizing the hyper-sexualization of women in and out of the line up. Have you ever been cat called or propositioned with sexual innuendo while you are trying to catch a freakin’ wave? I should be able to wear a bikini while surfing without having to be the target of objectification. The issue that you fail to realize is that Roxy’s ad, while deliberate or not, gives the legions of women oglers an OK to justify lecherous behavior. Get real! we all love feeling sexy, but I’d rather be the subject rather than the object.
      Also, let’s say those 20,000 signatures represent $100 each of bought merchandise, that would translate into $2,000,000. Yeah, small percentage.

      • matt obrien

        yes $2,000,000 is a big number BUT I would say it is still a small percentage in a multi-million dollar company. If it wasn’t they would do something to change it don’t you think?
        As for your “buddy” remarks: let’s get one thing straight – women get hit on EVERYWHERE they go. Shopping in a grocery store, playing other sports, walking down the street, work places, church, the park, the coffee shop, the bookstore, the farmers market. Everywhere. Surfing is just another “venue” for a dude to hit on a lady. I have always felt that in some ways it must difficult to deal with that kind of attention, but it isn’t going to go away any time soon.
        Let’s also get another thing straight, I think this attack campaign is stupid and pointless. As for reading the links to the article – I shouldn’t have to read the articles sources and links for the point to made clear. I am responding to the article written. BUT I have taken the time to read most of the articles written about the “hyper-sexualization of women” on this website.
        Good luck with your crusade…

        • oipoodles

          Thank you for straightening out where women get hit on. I thought it was only endemic to surfing. As for further straightening out of things, because surfing is such a unique and yes, spiritual experience, it has impassioned the folk supporting the petition to try and improve that experience by asking one of their favorite companies, “hey, we love your product, but the ad was a letdown, can we talk?” It’s only stupid and pointless to do nothing in this situation.
          Good luck on your do nothing crusade.

          • matt obrien

            i am helping the crusade… i don’t hit on women in the first place (i am married). i was only pointing out that surfing is but one of many places you can feel objectified. that’s about it.

            as for a crusade of nothing – you don’t know me so pretend (or worse state) that you know what it is I am about. I am simply referring to this overblown “issue” that keeps appearing on this website. I personally think you and others are blowing this thing way outta proportion. that’s all. Now maybe i’ll feel differently about it someday. today, not yet.

            one last blast (remember those from the 80′s-90′s surfer mag?): i have read almost all of the articles on this topic, and i find it kinda funny that because of them [articles] i have seen the offensive “hyper-sexualization of women” images & videos than i would have. meaning, without your “crusade” i would not have. (not that i wanted to mind you) just that without accompanying images and videos i wouldn’ have.

            have a nice day.

          • Cynthia

            Whenever someone makes an argument along the lines of “that’s the way the world is; get over it,” I have to ask: Is that the way the world should be? Because I hope for something better for my nieces and all girls growing up today. I don’t want them to suffer low self-esteem because, like most of us, they don’t look like models.

    • ScottTX

      I was going to reply above to Stephen, but actually, your comment is more pertinent. The 20,000 signatures (and let’s apply a 2x multiplier to assume some reflection of true customers & discretionary dollars) would roughly translate to $2mm/year in bikini sales @ $50/bikini. It’s not an inconsequential number. But I have to think from a marketing perspective that the company doesn’t need to do anything about its media content. From a PR perspective, the Roxy brand may need some help.

      Any outcome here relies solely on consumer behavior. Given that
      there’s no hazard or threat inherent in the continued consumption of
      Roxy products (in contrast to tainted food), I don’t see consumer
      behavior changing anytime soon.

      Further, there has not been and there will not be a mass exodus of buyers from the Roxy brand. Bikinis are culturally accepted and like it or not, the general consumer populace, including women, doesn’t care about objectification of women. Couple this with a decades-long, hard-wired image of surfing = sexy (or sexier), and there will be no change.

      As far as the appropriateness of focusing on sex versus performance in the Roxy video, I believe that female athletes who care about performance won’t give a shit about the video. They’re going to be self-determined to sever wave faces (possibly somewhat spurred on by endorsements…implicit catch-22) and a marketing campaign isn’t going to get in their way.

  • Stephen

    I can’t see the point of presenting academic studies that “prove” a particular marketing strategy is ineffective. Roxy know what sells their product, they pretty much created the women’s surfwear segment. They’ll have stacks of real-time sales data that show what works and what doesn’t. They have responsibility to their shareholders to maximise sales and profits – if sex isn’t selling then the market will force them to find something that does. Not petitions and academic papers.

  • dd

    Judging by how many hits the youtube got I think the Roxy promo team are still high 5ing each other in the hall ways.