Why Ken Block was such a masterful marketer


By Jeff Beer

On Monday, DC Shoes cofounder, Hoonigan founder, and rally-car driver Ken Block died in a snowmobile accident at the age of 55.

Block is perhaps best known among mainstream audiences for his groundbreaking Gymkhana rally-car-stunt driving series, launched in 2008, which has attracted more than 500 million views on YouTube. The series launched its 12th film last month, starring Travis Pastrana.

“Ken was a visionary, a pioneer and an icon,” Hoonigan posted in a statement on Instagram. “And most importantly, a father and a husband. He will be incredibly missed.”

Block and Damon Way cofounded DC Shoes in 1994, and built it into one of the most popular skateboarding-shoes brands before selling it to Quiksilver in 2004 for more than $100 million.

Block remained with the company in a brand-visionary role for another four years, extending its cultural reach beyond skateboarding and into snowboarding and beyond. Block told The Bomb Hole podcast last year that after the acquisition, the brand grew from $150 million in annual sales to more than $500 million.

From there, Block turned his sights to rally car racing, beginning in 2005, eventually starting in 25 World Rally Championship events, and winning five X Games medals in RallyCross between 2006 and 2015.

One consistent thread through Block’s work over the years was his ability to authentically connect with the audiences his brands were trying to attract. It’s tough not to like a brand like Hoonigan when the guy behind the wheel of its bonkers, viral content is the founder himself.

Why Ken Block was such a masterful marketer

He knew his biggest strength as a marketer was his own connection to his brands. He was a snowboarder who started a snowboarding magazine called Blunt, circa 1993. He was a skateboarder who started a skateboarding shoes company. He was a rally car and motorsports fanatic who started a motorsports culture brand. Block knew who his audience was because he saw them in the mirror every single day.

You can see it in how he turned his personal house into a content studio, long before branded content became a buzzword, with DC’s Mountain Lab in the early 2000s. Part Park City, Utah, cabin, part R&D center, part snowboard park, it made Block into snowboarding’s own Willy Wonka.

I saw it on the set of Gymkhana Nine in 2016. When any number of takes would do, Block’s commitment to getting the best possible shot was clear. “You still see BMW making fake videos of a car drifting on an aircraft carrier, and it’s all completely fake,” Block said at the time. “We don’t fake anything. I’m doing all of these tricks, so that’s real, but we also look for the camera angles that show it as best and as real as we can.”

Fast Company