Words by Frozen in Carbonite
Way back in college, my bros and I vibed the shit out of the business school dudes who walked around in three-piece suits: “Fuck those dudes! Could never be me, man. Just moving money from one place to another…”
Well, as with many things in life, the joke’s on me because, twenty years later, I’m over here Googling how to start an LLC ‘ n shit.
Truth be told, starting a business — via brands, entrepreneurship, startup culture, etc. — is [almost] cooler than skating! However, if you’re considering jumping into the fray of nascent skate brands and feel overwhelmed, one need only look to the heady pre-recession days of the mid-00s and study the most disruptive brand of the pre-Instagram era: The Hubba Wheel Company.
In order to learn something new — switch 360 flips, a musical instrument, lifting — one needs to observe as many examples as possible. Along those lines, we will examine the Hubba Wheel Company’s background and marketing tactics to deconstruct their most #disruptive advertisements. Join me, won’t you?
Hubba Wheels appeared concurrent to the Got Gold? and Yeah Right! era under the Street Corner Distribution Umbrella (Think, Tony Montgomery-supporter City Skateboards, etc). However, the brand fielded an elite team, including Jesus Fernandez, the criminally underrated Russ Milligan, and David Bachinsky — a professional skateboarder whose personal brand at the time revolved around smoking cigarettes, cheeseburgers, and from time-to-time smoking a cigarette through a cheeseburger.
Hubba gained traction and disrupted the skateboard wheel market through a series of provocative (definitely not Balma-approved) ads in Thrasher. Their slogan, “We make wheels and shit,” is almost as classic as the two undefeated Independent slogans: “F?!*ing hot!” and “Fuck the rest.” Don’t even get me started on Venture’s “AWAKE.” Truth be told, I could probably do a whole post on truck slogans.
ANYWAY, what truly set Hubba apart was their de facto invention of the thirst trap shadow economy that powers Instagram, the most important content management system in the world. In the app’s upper echelons, #influencers earn thousand of dollars “shouting out” products and/or services, e.g. some sketchy “fitness” supplement, a sketchy startup app, or a sketchy music fest in the Bahamas. Indeed, adding value to a brand via association with “hot chicks” is older than dirt, but Hubba leveraged Web 2.0 content management systems more effectively than any brand at the time.
How did they accomplish this? First of all, they posted a series of interviews with the models, similar to the “getting to know you” segment in every Jeopardy! episode. In addition, they composed a handful of minute-long videos involving various forms of hijinx and shenanigans in the wheel warehouse, etc. — these vignettes would have been perfect for the ‘gram. Again, who knows how #scalable Hubba would have become had they come out the gate, say, five years later, with the advent of Snapchat-type “snackable” content. With branding, as with most aspects of life, timing is everything.
The above should provide you with a macro overview of the Hubba #branding strategy. Now let’s take a closer, micro look at some of their ads and the specific marketing tactics therein.
My personal favorite Hubba ad is a slam dunk because it creates an entire narrative in the Theatre of the Mind. Like, what is the significance of the bear in the rear window? How does one get upholstery like that in an automobile? And, of course, what is the destination of Zered and his companion? The ivy-covered walls and driveway suggest they are en route to a get-together similar to the “Oh, you think so, doctor?” party from Boogie Nights.
Really makes you think. Of course, the logical follow-up/counterpoint would be a Boiler Room-themed ad with a pantsuit-clad model proclaiming to a board room of “colleagues” that “Whoever says ‘money is the root of all evil’ doesn’t fucking have any!”
SATIRICAL #RELEVANT BRANDING
The evolutionary version of the Guy Mariano “accidental gun death” graphic. Shoutout to Hubba for tackling our country’s neverending crisis and obsession for firearms. However — and I don’t have any data to support this — I think it’s safe to say that the percentage of gun violence perpetrated by individuals in half-unzipped latex dresses is relatively low. Shoutout the ominous “You’ll never ride another wheel again” tagline.
The current status and fate of Hubba Wheels remains unclear. The girls themselves have moved on in life; some can be found on the ‘gram, one is allegedly a television news anchor, and some have slipped off the grid, like that one girl you went on one date with who got into a long-term relationship, started posting tons of photos of her on her boyfriend’s boat ‘n shit, and suddenly deleted her entire social media presence.
ANYWAY, at press time, The Hubba Wheel Company — as a business entity — may or may not exist. Latest instagram post? 212 weeks ago. Most recent YouTube vid? Four years ago. One can view their most recent catalog, from Winter 2015, on the Times Up Distribution site. However, a base in the Bay Area affords Hubba a unique opportunity for rebirth; with the exponential rate of technological development in the region, new platforms are limited only by human imagination. Truth be told, I may be close to realizing my dream of plugging an ethernet cable into my medulla oblongata and skating circa-’91 Embarcadero. In addition, the region is crawling with venture capitalists. Along those lines, some hedge fund dude or Ben-Affleck-in-Boiler Room type might say “fuck it” and roll the dice on a hypersexually-branded skateboard wheel brand. My concern is when virtual-reality Instagram (or whatever) takes over. I mean, we already live in a William Gibson-esque dystopia, let’s push it to the limit.
You know what they say: buy low, sell high. Or some shit.