March 30, 2017

Written by Mark Smith

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Recreational brands such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and REI sell more than fishing tackle and hiking boots. They sell lifestyles. When you visit a Bass Pro Shop, for instance, you become immersed in an experience that celebrates the joys of fishing, hunting, and camping, which is evident from the woodsy decor, wildlife displays, and workshops and demos. These brands also celebrate outdoor living through visual storytelling. The following examples demonstrate how they do it — and build brand love at the same time:


When you visit any retailer website, you expect to find a lot of product images and specs on display. Cabela’s delivers on the table stakes but also uses visuals selectively to remind you that Cabela’s products are meant to be used outdoors, as this image of two campers rushing to a tent demonstrates:

There is more than meets the eye in the above image. The two women in the image are obviously excited to be camping as they rush to a tent with their rolled up sleeping bags. But you don’t see their faces. And Cabela’s branding is subtle — you have to look closely for the Cabela’s logo. Cabela’s demonstrates trust in its audience. Cabela’s doesn’t want to distract us with a predictable image of two smiling models. Instead, Cabela’s evokes curiosity and mystery. Where are the two women? How do they know each other? What’s next for their camping trip? Cabela’s trusts us to figure out our own answers. Also, Cabela’s knows it does not need to hit us over the head with branding. The above photo is used on the Cabela’s website; thus, Cabela’s knows it already has our attention. Cabela’s does an excellent job creating mystique with a single image.

Bass Pro Shops

As noted, Bass Pro Shops (which recently agreed to buy Cabela’s) are noted for using the power of visual storytelling to create immersive offline worlds. As these images from different Bass Pro Shops illustrate, Bass Pro Shops really creates Outdoor Worlds, not just stores:

In addition, Bass Pro Shops encourage engagement with frequent product demonstrations and seminars on topics related to fishing and hunting. Clearly, Bass Pro Shops are places to hang out, which is a smart strategy. Creating a welcoming environment for people who hunt and fish encourages them to engage with your products. You might come into a Bass Pro Shop to buy some tackle — and after you get immersed for awhile, you’ll probably walk out with a new rod and reel. And creating the right environment visually is key.


Just about all the major outdoor retailers support their social spaces well with effective visuals. But REI gets a shout-out for really rocking its Facebook page. Like many retailers, the company relies on Facebook to announce product deals. But REI also lets pictures do the talking, as this dramatic Facebook banner photo shows:

REI also gets its Facebook visitors involved in visual storytelling. The company recently invited the REI Facebook community to share a photo of someone in their lives who introduced them to the great outdoors, resulting in charming submissions like this one:

Note also the story that the user submitted with the photo — makes you wonder about that old blue REI ice ax that once saved someone’s life.

REI does not foist its products upon you with these images. Rather, REI celebrates outdoor life through the people who use its products.

What You Can Learn

These outdoor retailers clearly know how to play to the emotional value of lifestyle branding. When you sell a lifestyle, you appeal to human desire. We might want to buy a new pair of hiking boots, a kayak or a tent, but we really desire time away. Time away to explore a new trail, river or just camp in the woods. These brands create desire in their own ways — Cabela’s through the power of mystique and suggestion, Bass Pro Shops by creating immersive worlds, and REI by giving you a slice of life outdoors while online.

Incorporating visual storytelling into your branding and media efforts is paramount. Driving traffic to an experience that isn’t everything it can be is just that . . . driving traffic. Make sure you connect emotionally and get the most out of every interaction you have with your customer or prospect.

How do you apply visual storytelling? What lessons have you learned?