Let me set this one up. I had an idea for an article for TransWorld Skateboarding Business comparing the skateboarding print ads of the late '80s/early '90s to those of today, which at the time of this article was January 2003. Steve Rocco and the companies he owned put out some of the most memorable ads in skateboarding history, so, in addition to him being someone I have always admired, his inclusion in the piece was a must. When I contacted his people, after a week or so of correspondence, they said Steve was only willing to do an email interview with me.
For those of you not too familiar with journalism, email interviews lack a conversational aspect. And you can't really interact or go where you want to with your subject—or even let the person kinda go off on tangents or speak. Many people even don't like the act of typing and view email as tedious, so they don't answer as spontaneously or enthusiastically. Often times, even the basic questions you want to ask, look really dumb to the person who has to answer them when they are typed out in an email rather than asked over the phone. Regardless, I was still excited and whipped up some questions really quickly, because it was made painfully clear that Rocco didn't have too much time to waste on talking to me.
So that's my disclaimer...in my defense, so to speak. However, in insulting me, he makes some good points and I learned a lot from this experience. More importantly, I got a super funny interview from one of the most influential figures in skateboarding history—even if it was at my own expense.
One final note... after spending weeks interviewing individuals like Andy Jenkins, Sean Cliver, Birdo, and more the article never went to print. Enjoy.
Rob: What makes a successful and memorable ad campaign?
Rocco: Success is not a tangible thing that can be quantified or pinpointed. As it is true that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Success and failure are no different. As for things of any memorable value, they are not seen as such when they are in placed front of you for plain viewing but exist the rearview mirror of your mind. It is only because we eventually became industry magnates that people look back and think we were geniuses. If we had went broke no one would be asking what our recipe for financial ruin was.
Why does shock value and controversy work in skateboarding?
I think you are confusing shock value and controversy for raw truth, which for some reason most people find shocking and controversial.
What ads and campaigns in skate history are most memorable to you?
The early Powell ads that Stecyk did were amazing. Tony Buyalos' early Shorty's ads were good also. A few of Ken Block's Droors ads were actually inspiring to me. Marc McKee's comic strips were pure genius. Marc Johnson is the only newcomer that shows promise. Besides those, and some of our early ones, all skateboard ads have been mindless drivel.
What ads did you run that got the biggest reaction? Whether it be sales, hate mail, kudos, etc?
It's hard to say since when we started in the late '80's skating was not that big. Usually the biggest reactions were lawsuits from our competitors.
What was the social/cultural/skateboarding climate at the time of the release of these memorable/successful/hated ads?
Out with the old in with the new. It was sort of a revolutionary Lord of the Flies.
Did any of the mentioned campaigns contribute to the success or failure of the company(ies)?
That is a vague and ambiguous question. Your poor writing skills and lack of intellectually challenging queries are beginning to bore me.
How do the ads of yesterday compare/contrast with the ads of today?
Once again, put some effort into it.
Why do the ads of today not have the same “feel” as back in the day?
Because they, like your inane questions, have no feeling. They were done to meet a deadline rather than to say something.
How are your company's ads different today than from eight or 10 years ago?
I understand you are just doing your job and doing the best you can but try to be more concise and witty if at all possible. Maybe some research would help.
Does having a lower budget lend itself to having to get more creative, or even controversial with ads to get attention?
No more than having a low IQ would lend itself this desperate literal inquisition.
When you were creating ads for Duffs, World, Big Brother, Blind, Plan B, 101, Prime etc. Did you have any idea how influential/memorable/controversial/mimicked they would be? Seems like Consolidated still uses the “text only” style ads that you did back in the day. Some of the enjoi ads seem reminiscent of old “Rocco company” ads. And it's safe to say that you broke the ice as far as explicit material and controversy, which many companies do regularly now.
Oh, where was I. Ah yes, the interview. Well of course I knew. How could I not? As is true of all men of unparalleled vision and foresight, it was all part of a premeditated master recipe for mayhem. You know the kind I'm talking about, just like the founding fathers came up for our country. The only difference being mine didn't need 200 years to take effect. The memes of my mind have now incubated and hatched in my innumerable and mindless minions. The effects are now just being seen. Soon the skateboard industry will collapse upon itself taking down with it the rest of the action sports industry, and shortly thereafter a complete global economic meltdown. Which, I will then blame on Rodney. After his trial and subsequent incarceration I will then commence a rewriting of the history books. His name will be stricken and then I will finally be 1980 freestyle champion. No wait, wait, wait—jail would actually be too much fun for him, too much free time to read. I know, we let him wander around the desert for forty years. Yes, my precious—that should do it. Yes, yes. No. Silly tricksy hobbit gets lost easy. No need to drive all the way to the desert—city limits far enough. Yes. Yes. Then, at last, we will be master of the precious.