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The World Surf League's First-Ever Ad Likens the Volatile Sport of Surfing to Chaos Theory


To distill the unpredictability and drama of competitive surfing, the World Surf League has launched its first global campaign, "You Can't Script This," anchored by "Chaos Theory," a 90-second spot from ad agency Mistress. 

The mix of stock, custom and athlete footage includes surging seas, shifting sands and surfboard shaping—along with moody shots of billowing drapes, flickering video screens and a tornado funnel—accompanied by a breathless voiceover: "Isn't it something that a single breath has the power to spawn an entire storm a thousand miles away? We cannot predict it. We can only bear witness to the wonder." 

That last bit is so leaden, it nearly sinks the whole enterprise. Yet the use of such hyper-saturated prose makes sense when you consider the level of passion and reverence serious surfers have for the sport. 

"We're focusing our 2015 media spend where our target audiences consume the sport—digital and social. As we continue to expand our message and recruit new fans into competitive surfing in 2016, we will rely more heavily on traditional channels," WSL chief marketing officer Scott Hargrove tells AdFreak. "The goal is to establish an authentic connection with existing surf fans and then carefully expand our message to new fans beyond surfing's core." 

To achieve that end, the commercial—breaking today, ahead of this month's Billabong Pipe Masters competition in Hawaii—could have used a tighter focus. For example, 72andSunny's epic ads for Samsung explored the spiritual interconnectedness of the surfing community and put a human face on the sport, while capturing the intensity of training and competing in snarling wind and swirling waves. 

"Competitive surfing is constantly changing and evolving—from upsets to perfection, a thwarted shark attack to the most hotly contested championship race in years," Hargrove says. "We believe this unpredictability is what makes the sport so compelling and therefore made it the focus of our creative strategy." 

Fair enough. And while not a total wipeout, it's a shame "Chaos Theory" relies so heavily on clichéd "dramatic" imagery and language. The underlying metaphor rocks, but despite its quest to portray surfing as a constant surprise, the ad feels a tad predictable. 


Production Company: Eskimo
Executive Producer: David Martinez
Director: Dan DiFelice
Director of Photography: Khalid Mohtaseb
Producer: James Parker
Postproduction: Eskimo
Post Producer: Tamar Sasson
Editor: Scott Hanson
Assistant Editor: Scott Crozier
Designer, Motion Designer: Jerry Liu
Visual Effects: Blacksmith NY
Sound Design: Cypher Audio

Agency: Mistress
Creative Director, Partner: Scott Harris
Strategy, Partner: Christian Jacobsen
Art Director: Megan Nakazawa
Copywriter: Adam Wagner
Brand Director: Victoria Edwards
Brand Manager: Kylie Wu
Agency Producer: Trevor Paperny
Project Manager: Alex Clewell

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