At the end of the 80s there was really only one widely recognised skateboarding company: Powell Peralta.
Started by two of the biggest names in skateboarding – particularly Stacey Peralta – the company was very successful.
Indeed, it was pretty much the team to ride for.
Its elite skating team – the Bones Brigade – included a young Tony Hawk. Nowadays, he’s perhaps the only universally recognised name in skateboarding.
Another famous rider who you might have heard of was a chap called Rodney Mullen.
Mullen pretty much invented modern skateboarding.
He won almost every competition he entered, invented almost every trick there is, and still pushes the boundaries of the sport today, using modern technology to push skateboard design as far as it will go.
But what’s this got to do with good copywriting?
Enter Steve Rocco
You see, during his time riding for the Powell Peralta team, Mullen became close friends with a chap called Steve Rocco.
Steve was a skater too, but unlike Mullen – who was pretty straight-laced – Rocco was a wild character.
He decided that it was time to start his own skateboarding company. He saw Powell Peralta had become too big and was losing touch with modern skaters.
He wasn’t alone in this line of thought.
Eventually he managed to get Mullen to quit Powell and join his new venture. A new skate company was born, a company that would eventually (after a few legal disputes) become know as World Industries.
Today, World Industries is still one of the biggest companies in skateboarding and at one point or another in its history, it has given birth to almost all the best skateboarding companies around today.
Rocco and Mullen sold the company a fair few years ago now. In doing so, it made them multimillionaires overnight.
For me, one of the biggest factors that got them into such a position was the copy they used in their early advertisements.
You find great copy in the strangest places
You see, Rocco had a natural talent for good copy and it served him well.
He knew his copy had to connect with its audience on an emotional level and every advert he ran – even those that got him into trouble from big companies who didn’t like his ‘anything goes’ approach – he did something a good copywriter should always aim to do…
He tapped-in to how his target audience thinks.
But what makes Rocco’s copy so good is that he did so in a very difficult way: he connected using one of the most challenging emotions to get a handle on in advertising…
Though I’d generally advise against using it, for his audience it was the perfect emotion.
Skateboarding was seen as a slacker sport…a hobby for the underground…for people who rallied against concepts of capitalism and corporatism.
So when Rocco started self-deprecating his own company and pointing out that the competitor – Powell Peralta – was a bigger and more professional company, skaters loved it.
Each advert felt like an ‘in joke’ between Rocco and his audience. Even adverts that went as far as to literally insult the reader, actually worked a treat.
The bigger, more established companies hated it.
They couldn’t compete because it was true:
They had lost touch and simply didn’t understand this kind of approach.
The very look of Rocco’s adverts was different.
Whilst Powell’s ads looked polished and professional, Steve’s looked like they’d been typed out and edited on a photocopier.
But just look at those early Rocco ads and any copywriter who’s studied their Ogilvy will see the ads actually look like something that the great ‘O’ would have produced (if he were a skateboarder.)
You can see Rocco’s ads:
- Stick to a single idea
- Use simple language
- Tell a story
- Use simple design (black on white text, with no ‘reversing out’)
- And they all have a striking headline
All in all, they are very good.
So, though you might not find Steve Rocco credited as a copywriter anywhere in the history of copywriting, here you do have a man who knew good copy.
The key thing to take from his work for the modern copywriter, I think, is his courage to go with his gut, no matter how crazy the idea.
Sure, such an approach will sometimes lead you down the wrong path…
But sometimes, being a bit crazy is the ONLY way you’ll truly discover the big idea.