The American Association for Nude Recreation is on a bare hunt.
The nation’s largest nudist association is looking for corporate sponsors, and leaders think this might be their moment in the sun. Now that the organic food movement has given the word naked a wholesome new meaning—suggesting natural and free of preservatives—the word is popping up in all kinds of product names: Naked Pizza, Bear Naked granola, the Naked Grape Chardonnay and more than one naked lager.
Since October, the group has sent about 100 query letters. They have written to the makers of “naked” products and to companies selling items their members use a lot, such as Hawaiian Tropic and BullFrog sunscreens. And they have also targeted companies they think should be interested because their advertising has gone au naturel in a fun or artful way. Those include Geico, Nike, NKE -0.08% Reebok, Dove and Delta Faucet.
“We’re hoping we’ll give the association greater exposure,” says the association’s Executive Director Jim Smock, adding a difficult to believe, “no pun intended.”
The response has been skimpy. So far, he has received three letters of regret, and a case of E. & J. Gallo Winery’s Naked Grape wine.
The nudists remain hopeful. The group has commissioned a demographic analysis of its members and is offering potential sponsors a peek at the markets they could reach. “We know we have something to offer,” says Susan Weaver, president of the Kissimmee, Fla., group.
The pitch: The typical member is a college-educated empty-nester who has disposable income and likes to travel. The nonprofit group has an annual budget of about $1.5 million, 34,000 dues-paying members in the U.S. and Canada, and 266 affiliated Nakation spots (clubs, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts and RV campgrounds).
But the association, which lobbies for better enforcement of anti-lewdness laws rather than the creation of anti-nudity laws, is trying to cast a wider net. Consider, the group’s leaders say, the popularity of skinny-dipping. About 15% of American leisure travelers say they are interested in a resort that offers clothing-optional recreation, according to a survey by the travel marketing firm MMGY Global. And 12% say they would like to go to a nude beach.
Nevertheless, the group faces a significant hurdle. Though the 82-year-old organization has made strides in gaining social acceptance and legal protections, many people still find nudism off-putting.
Wooing major brands could be a heavy lift, given the risk of backlash and the association’s relatively small membership, branding experts say.
Their advice: The association should first give itself a face-lift, a sleeker website, a revamped logo and maybe a stripped-down name.
Karen Post, author of “Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory and the 7 Game Changers that Made the Difference,” says the association’s tagline—”The credible voice of reason for nude recreation since 1931″—has got to go.
Ms. Weaver says she is proud of that tagline, developed with the help of a focus group seven years ago, but conceded that the group’s brand and website could use some spiffing up. She says it is one of the things she hopes to do with any money the association raises from corporate sponsors, along with expanding its education campaign.
Hers isn’t the first group to try to turn a negative image on its head.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has helped shift public opinion enough to win legalization of medical marijuana in 18 states and recreational use in two. Condom makers reinvented the product’s image as a symbol of public health. And the American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, launched a campaign in November to change negative perceptions about filing lawsuits.
Tom Mulhall is an association member and owner of the Terra Cotta Inn, a nudist resort in Palm Springs, Calif. If he were making the appeal to corporate executives, he says, he would speak to their bottom line. “Nudists are where the gay community was back in the ’60s. A lot of people are still in the closet,” he says. “It’s a much bigger market than people really realize.”
“We jokingly call ourselves the official uniform,” says Tilley spokeswoman Susan Laspa. “It’s a natural fit for us.”
Tilley sponsors the association’s annual convention, takes out ads in its publications and sends the group more than 50 hats a year. In 10 years, Tilley has never experienced a backlash for supporting the nudist group, Ms. Laspa says.
She searched for the right way to describe the group. “It’s very up and up,” she said, finally.
Dove, Naked Pizza, BullFrog and Hawaiian Tropic declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Delta Faucet said the company was “flattered” but didn’t have any record of receiving the association’s letter.
Dean Jarrett, a spokesman for the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., chuckled when told that his firm’s Geico ad—in which its gecko happens upon a clothing-optional beach—had inspired the nudist organization to approach the insurance company for sponsorship.
“Geico’s spokescharacter is always naked,” Mr. Jarrett said. “So it’s no big deal to him.” Geico didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Dan Cleary, co-owner of Cortland Beer Co. in upstate New York, was tickled when he received a letter from Mr. Smock. He pinned it up on his office wall.
Cortland Beer sells Naked Lap Lager. The brewery’s website calls its lager refreshing, like “swimming naked on a hot August night.”
Mr. Cleary said he hadn’t replied because his distribution area is small. He doesn’t ship out of state. He wondered aloud how many members the association might have in New York. “I think it’s a little cold to be running around naked.” But, on second thought, he said, he might give them a call.
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