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Finnish Wife Carrying and Irish Bog Snorkeling Helps Create Brand Awareness

George C. Fisher

July 19, 2000

I was surfin' the Internet the other day, looking for the latest results for the Annual North American Wife Carrying Contest held in Bethel, Maine this month. Even though the event has already taken place, the winners have not yet been posted. For those unfamiliar with this international sport, it may come as somewhat of a shock that the competition was originally developed in Finland in the late 1800's. It is said to have deep roots in the local Finnish history, and was started as an enlisted man's test of strength prior to military service. The contest dates back to the days when it was common practice to steal women from neighboring villages.

In the modern contest, the contestants choose a female (over the age of 17 and not necessarily their actual wife), and carry them around a 253.5-meter track with two dry obstacles and a water hazard. Contestants run the track in pairs and the quickest time wins. There is a 15-second penalty for dropping the woman carried. In 1999, the winning time was 1 minute, 4.5 seconds. Last year's winners received a mobile phone, $250 cash prize, a small trophy, a loaf of rye bread, and the equivalent of the wife's weight in beer.

While surfin' the Net, I ran across another interesting competition - Irish Bog Snorkeling. The official Bog Snorkeling course is a 60-yard trench cut into a Wales peat moss bog. Snorkelers are allowed to wear snorkels and flippers, but conventional swimming strokes are banned in this race. A field of 51 competitors is assembled from around the world (including the USA). The winning time this year was 1.52 minutes and is only the third time a winner has broken the two-minute mark. The slowest time clocked in at 5.08 minutes.

What intrigued me about Irish Bog Snorkeling is it that was sponsored by Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (UK). As one of the world's weirdest sporting events, it was covered by Sky News (British for CNN) and BBC Worldwide Service. The event was also radio broadcast over the BBC in Scotland, Manchester, Belfast and Oxford. The print media picked up the story and it was covered in the Metro London newspapers and the Shropshire Star.

A Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream banner was hung over the official starting and finish line, and the winners were photographed accepting their trophies underneath a large Ice Cream advertisement. Ben & Jerry's UK received huge amounts of publicity by sponsoring this quirky contest of just 51 participants. Millions of people were exposed to the Ben & Jerry's famous brand of products, with very little advertising expense.

As investors review company management prior to investing in their stock, they should look at their brand name and how they market their products. Strong brand name products bring market muscle, and smart marketers will find quirky avenues to create brand loyalty. DRIP companies with exceptionally strong consumer brand loyalty include Harley Davidson HDI, Home Depot HD, Pitney Bowes PBI, Kennamental KMT, and Nokia NOK. Each company has developed powerful brand loyalty, which is the envy of their industry. Over the long term, their growing sales and profits should continue to reward investors. For example, a $10,000 investment in Harley Davidson stock when they went public in 1985 would be worth over $1 million today. HDI's stellar stock rise has been fueled by excellent management and rapidly expanding earnings, driven by a very strong consumer preference for their products.

For those marketing executives out there looking for sporting events to sponsor, how about a few of my old favorites. I can see the possibilities now:

My top choice would be the Intimate Brands' Wife Carrying Contest.

George Fisher, author of The StreetSmart Guide to Overlooked Stocks (McGraw Hill, 2002) and All About DRIPs and DSPs (McGraw Hill, 2001), Sagamore Beach, MA

Copyright North Shore Associates 2000

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