A visual from Columbia's “Tested Tough” campaign.


NEW YORK – After a 10-year hiatus from Columbia Sportswear’s advertising, chairwoman Gert Boyle is again making her presence known in a big way.

The Portland, Ore.-based outdoor brand launched a long-term global brand platform Wednesday night at the Cedar Lake performance space in West Chelsea here. The “north of $50 million” initiative is Columbia Sportswear’s largest one to date, and includes an expansive digital component, according to chief marketing officer Stuart Redsun. One of the more unexpected elements is the appointment of two directors of toughness, who beat out thousands of others to travel the globe for the next six months putting Columbia products to the test. The new hires – ultrarunner and writer Lauren Steele and adventure traveler and sports photographer Zach Doleac — will start their travels with an Oct. 12 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Boyle is vested in the brand, as her father bought a small hat company that is now Columbia Sportswear. In 1970, she took on the role of president, when her husband Neal died unexpectedly. At that time, the Portland-based brand was an $800,000 operation and Boyle’s son Tim was brought in full-time a few years later to help rev up business. Now with distribution in 100 countries and $2.1 billion in sales Columbia Sportswear employs 6,600 people worldwide, including 1,300 in its Portland corporate office. In 1998, the company went public.

Now 91, Boyle first appeared in the company’s commercials in 1984 as “Ma Boyle” in the “One Tough Mother” campaign, using her son as a test dummy for various misadventures. In recent years, the brand has zeroed in on the technical functionality of products, but now is playing up a more fun, likable angle. In one of the new spots, Boyle is pictured standing on a snowy mountain with a cougar with the tag line, “Welcome to the Pacific Northwest where the cougars really are cougars.” (She also will appear in a mock Outside magazine cover wrap that will serve as an ad.)

“When you go down that new technology route, it makes it really difficult to have a consistent message season after season because the consumer has to relearn what your brand stands for,” said Redsun, adding that the time was right for a new approach. “One, we solidified that technology leadership and with our growth continuing around the world, we wanted to have one unified platform that everyone can rally behind.”

To that end, the campaign launches Thursday in 63 countries and the “Tested Tough” program will apply to every product Columbia sells. It was developed in-house and with the Portland-based agency North. While Boyle famously said, “It’s perfect – now make it better,” the company is calling on her and the thousands of its employees for its new “Tested Tough” initiative. The program calls upon staffers to test-wear products and detail the results with family and friends. Redsun said, “’Tested Tough’ isn’t just an ad campaign or tag line, it’s the promise of our 77-year-old brand. It’s what motivates each and every employee to build and deliver great products.”

A 25-year veteran of the athletic industry, Redsun most recently worked for Under Armour before joining Columbia last year. Retail expansion is part of his marching orders for Columbia, which has 12 freestanding stores in the U.S. and 3,000 franchised ones and concepts shops internationally.

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