KEE Action Sports is the most well rounded and fundamentally sound company in the paintball industry. However, the company has failed to capitalize on current marketing and advertising trends and is failing to separate from itself from its direct competitors due to this misstep. In order to surpass the competition and increase brand awareness beyond its current reach, KEE must make use of strategic partnerships with freelance videographers, non-paintball events that share common demographics, and even other action sports that could prove useful for cross-promotional purposes.
The company must revamp its current ad design, social media approach, shead its “big business” stigma, and address its lack of a consistent brand representation in order to raise its game to the next level. This Branding Campaign is authored with the intent of guiding the company in that next crucial step forward.
The most appropriate place to begin the discussion of this campaign is with a reminder of the company’s mission statement, and what it entails. “KEE Action Sports is dedicated to business owners, enthusiasts, and athletes who thrive on adrenaline. We have over 30 years of combined experience to work, produce, and supply the widest selection of top quality products with an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction. KEE Action Sports is dedicated to providing top quality products for every level of experience” (“About Us”, 2014). The company’s goals are simple; to create and supply a top quality paintball product that will ensure a positive experience.
KEE Action Sports, while a titan in the paintball industry, still retains the small company atmosphere with approximately 170 full-time employees (Harrington, 2014). However, this small appearance is somewhat deceiving. The company is directly represented in Canada, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and the United States, while maintaining multiple strategic partnerships throughout the globe, spanning from Mexico to China (“Contact Us – Stay in Touch!”, 2014). So, it is fair to say that KEE Action Sports excels at maximizing efficiency from their employees and properly utilizes partnerships to supplement any areas in which the company is light, or is in need of assistance. This willingness to form partnerships will prove vital to the success of this campaign going forward.
Within the United States, KEE is headquartered in Sewell, New Jersey, and has distribution centers in California, Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri (“Contact Us – Stay in Touch!”, 2014). This network of distribution centers is aimed at severely reducing the cost of shipment to dealers, both traditional and big-box. As an example of scale, the company’s newest and least established brand “JT Splatmaster”, which is aimed at children nine years of age and older, is already represented in over 200 traditional stores, as well as 4,000 big-box doors nationwide (Loco, 2013).
KEE’s overall brand positioning is fairly easily summed up by a quick breakdown of each brand. The brands are as follows:
Empire – KEE’s High to Mid-end focused paintball brand. Empire was first established in the paintball market place by its former owner National Paintball Supply in the early 2000s. Empire remains the highest profile and most well-known brand in KEE’s stable.
JT Paintball – A legendary brand in paintball. JT Sports was at one time, among the top brands in the paintball world. However, the company came upon hard times during the recession years of 2008 and was purchased in 2010 by KEE. The brand has since been refocused on providing Low to Mid-end gear with a few offerings that could be classified as High-end. What JT does best is soft-goods. Their Proflex mask has been a staple of the paintball world since their introduction in 2003.
Spyder – Formerly owned by Kingman, the Spyder name is among the most well-known to those even slightly acquainted with the paintball world. The Spyder name holds a unique position of having a long tenure, but not the best quality record. The brand is primarily focused on Low-end, entry level markers and soft goods, and is the sport’s introductory brand to many past, present, and future players.
JT Splatmaster – The newest addition to KEE’s product line. It serves as an off-shoot of their JT brand that is focused on bringing new, younger players into the sport. The Splatmaster brand is comprised of low-cost, non-air powered markers that shoot .50 caliber projectiles instead of the traditional .68 caliber. It is aimed at allowing kids that want to try paintball, but are too young or too scared to play an avenue into the sport. JT Splatmaster is a classic example of a grassroots strategy in practice.
The company’s structure is fairly traditional, with a CEO in place reporting to a board of directors. KEE is organized under LLC and is not a publicly traded company (“Company Overview”, 2014). KEE’s culture is very much reflective of its traditional structure. The company has a very close-knit, yet business focused culture internally. However, any warmth or personality the company possesses does not spill out into the eyes of the general public very often. There are no major personalities tied to the brand outside of sponsored teams and players. This has led to many consumers feeling that KEE is the “big business” of paintball, rather than part of the community. With this being said, KEE is by far the most well rounded and structurally sound company in the industry, which is displayed by the company’s holdings, brand positioning, and intellectual properties alone.
The concept of Brand Personality is the area in which KEE Action Sports falls behind its competitors. Currently there is no true “face of the brand” or even a single notable representative from within the company. The closest thing KEE has to a traditional brand ambassador is a rotating mix of the company’s sponsored professional paintball players.
While this approach makes sense in larger sports, professional paintball players do not carry the notoriety or media coverage that other mainstream sports players do. So, unless the audience follows professional paintball, the star power of the player is nullified. Also, the fact that there is no consistent representation by a select few charismatic players, but rather an indiscriminate assortment, negates any familiarity that the audience may build with the brand spokespersons.
Since the departure of lead product designer Simon Stevens in February 2013, KEE Action Sports has been without a consistent internal personality that is active and highly visible within the general paintball community (Abernathy, 2013). This has left the company without any form of recognizable or seemingly approachable individual to distribute the company’s message on various media outlets, as well as the very popular forums or message board sites that are ubiquitous throughout the paintball landscape. If there is a widespread issue with a KEE product in the near future, there is no voice emanating from the company that is recognized or respected by the community. This can severely hinder any attempts at damage control that the company may make in order to resolve the product issue.
At this juncture KEE Action Sports sits in the most complete and well-rounded position it has held to-date. The company has a fantastic portfolio of patents, products, and a good reputation for customer service. However, the direct competition still remains quite fierce. Competitors like Planet Eclipse and Dye Precision are also in historically great position, possibly only being topped by the pre-recession era of 2002-2006. During the economic recession many sports took a hit in growth, and quite a few actually began to shrink, paintball being no exception (SFIA, 2013). The sport itself is inherently expensive to play, and that does not bode well during times of tight budgets and economic downturn. However, this regression was not limited to paintball alone, baseball, basketball, football, outdoor soccer, volleyball, and even fishing saw declines in participation during the 2007-2012 years (SFIA, 2013). However, paintball as a whole is beginning to stabilize and is slowly getting back on pace for the growth it displayed before the nation-wide economic crisis of recent years.
As for indirect competition, other extreme or action sports such as skateboarding, skating, and snowboarding are all seen as the most similar to the sport of paintball and pose as the biggest competition for paintball’s primary demographic of males ages 14-24. However, the recent economic downturn has also taken its toll on these sports. Skateboarding is down 5.8% in total participation during 2007-2012 (SFIA, 2013). Inline skating is down 9.2% during 2007-2012 (SFIA, 2013). Snowboarding is still positive during 2007-2012 with 1.6%, but has lost 5.3% over the course of 2011-2012 (SFIA, 2013). So, after examining the numbers, it is fair to say that a large number of sports have shown a decline due to a plethora of reasons, the most prominent being the economic downturn.
Strength – KEE Action Sports has a strong core of efficient business practices, a strong product portfolio, and a strong portfolio of intellectual properties to draw from during times of general instability. It is the most well rounded company in the industry.
Weakness – KEE Action Sports lacks a differentiating factor that many of its direct competitors have. KEE is a jack-of-all-trades, but a true master of none. This hurts the company’s popularity in a target demographic that is heavily influenced by flashy presentation and personality.
Opportunity – The consolidation of the paintball industry due to economic downturn has “cut the fat” off of a lot of the industry and left the strongest companies alive to reap the benefits of a once again wide-open and non-flooded market.
Threat – Direct competition is making headway into KEE’s market share with new, innovative products and a superior approach to consumer marketing.
Political – The biggest international political issue that faces paintball is the legality of the markers themselves. Several countries have outlawed airguns as weapons or severely restricted their usage. In Germany, markers are classified as weapons, but do not require a license or permit to buy. However, their usage is restricted to those 18 years of age or older (“MPs Rush”, 2009). Many paintball parks in Germany have adopted a “No Mil-Sim” policy, which basically means that no camouflage or markers that resemble actual firearms will be allowed (“Paintball Dodges”, 2009). These obstacles greatly hinder the potential for growth in these regions and will continue to negatively impact how successful paintball can be on the international stage.
Economical – The economic climate is improving, if only slightly since the recession that impacted both American and European markets. As the western markets continue to make positive strides, the more disposable income that will be available. Currently the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia are the four most prominent countries for the sport of paintball. Here is a quick breakdown of their economic standing according to the CIA World Factbook.
United States. – 79th in unemployment with 7.3%, 40th in inflation with 1.5%, 14th in GDP per capita with $52,800 (CIA World Factbook, 2014).
United Kingdom. – 76th in unemployment with 7.2%, 71st in inflation with 2.0%, 34th in GDP per capita with $37,300 (CIA World Factbook, 2014).
France. – 108th in unemployment with 10.20%, 21st in inflation with 0.9%, 39th in GDP per capita with $35,700 (CIA World Factbook, 2014).
Russia. – 55th in unemployment with 5.8% , 184th in inflation with 6.8%, 77th in GDP per capita with $18,100 (CIA World Factbook, 2014).
Social – As the world, the United States in particular, becomes more health conscious, the demand for active sports that promote a healthy lifestyle are on the rise. Paintball, when played in its more active, tournament format fits quite nicely into this niche. Matches last roughly 3 to 5 minutes and are very tiring due to the physical and fast-paced nature of the game. If this trend continues to grow worldwide, paintball may have an avenue for marketing itself as a health conscious activity in the near future.
Technological – Technologically, paintball is nearly even across the board. There is not a single company that dominates a majority of the technological aspects of the sport. Some companies do things better than others, but there is no drop off from country to country in their ability to produce products that are up to par with the current level of offerings on the market. As for the hosting and execution of events, there is no discernable difference in technology that makes European events below that of their American counterparts.
Brand Campaign Objectives
The objectives of this branding campaign are quite simple. KEE Action Sports sits in a fantastic position from a financial standpoint, but is lagging behind in terms of the consumer facing side of the company. The following objectives will help to address this issue and help grow the company and the sport as a whole.
The strategy for this Branding Campaign will be to rework the current ad design efforts and utilize non-paintball partnerships to spread brand awareness, as well as general sport awareness to a larger audience of the target demographic in both the United States, as well as Europe. The current target audience is composed of young adults ages 14-24, primarily males. The reason for this specific demographic is due to this age group being a traditional consistent player-base for paintball. KEE Action Sports will need to further solidify its position within the core audience before further expanding to more niche demographics.
The target audience for this Branding Campaign will be quite broad, ranging from seasoned players, to those who have only heard of paintball in passing. While the primary focus will be on attracting new players, especially in the European market, the need to further service the current player-base remains ever prevalent.
The main issue with KEE’s current approach is that it does not appeal to the target audience on the same level as the company’s direct competition does. The current advertising efforts come off as a bit bland and lack distinct personality or differentiation. KEE’s ads are by far the most conservative and traditional in the industry, and at times can come off quite awkward when the company tries to increase the “cool” factor. The problem with this is that paintball is not a traditional sport, and traditional advertising often does not fit well with the sport’s current culture. If KEE wishes to gain the same rabid following as its competitors, namely Planet Eclipse and HK Army, then the company will have to embrace an advertising style that is more in line with what is popular among its target audience.
In order to attract new players to the sport, KEE will need to formulate partnerships with venues, events, and possibly other alternative sports that share similar demographics in order to generate interest in both the brand, and the sport. This cross promotion, coupled with the revamped advertisements, increased involvement in the European Millennium Series, and the selection of consistent, charismatic, and approachable spokespersons will expand the company’s reach, recognition, and overall popularity.
The current trends within the industry are a much larger and more interactive social media presence, a continuous direct dialog with players and dealers via message boards, and action-packed Youtube videos showcasing the company’s products, as well as recaps of sponsored team activities. KEE has attempted to catch up on these trends, but is currently floundering in the presentation and execution. This struggle to keep up has left the company’s efforts in this arena feeling outdated and forced, which has caused a disconnect between the company’s message and the target audience.
Branding Campaign Tactics
KEE Action Sports will be repositioning itself in the minds of the target audience as a positive and active part of the close-knit community, rather than the “big business” of paintball moniker that the company wears now. The product line is fantastic, the customer service is fantastic, and the many growth oriented programs the company has in place are fantastic. The only problem is that a large part of the community doesn’t know it, and feels that the company is not truly dedicated to the sport. No sweeping changes to the logo or structure of the company will need to be made for the implementation of this campaign. The company is doing a lot of things right, the message just needs to be put in a language and setting that is better suited for the target audience.
In order to catch up with the competition, and surpass them, KEE will first and foremost select a maximum of three individuals to represent the company in the majority of ads, videos, interviews, and on the ever popular paintball message boards. The preferred mix will be one individual from inside the company and two individual sponsored players that look to be part of the KEE family for quite a while. Charisma, passion, and the ability to diffuse polarizing discussions are at a premium for this position. Since this job will be equal parts promotion, public relations, and damage control; the company would benefit from being careful and deliberate in their selections.
As for the updating of KEE’s advertising efforts, an official partnership with freelance videographers such as Alex Hodge, a New Zealand based designer, may be in the company’s best interest due to the difficulty of capturing the style of editing and cinematography that is so popular among the target audience. This falls in line with one of KEE’s historic strengths, creating beneficial strategic partnerships.
In addition to this partnership, the company’s advertising efforts going forward should focus on showing KEE as part of the paintball community and the dedication to paintball that the company clearly possesses to anyone actually looking for it. An emphasis on telling the “KEE Story”, and detailing the company’s many growth oriented programs would help tremendously with this effort. The revitalization of an older, largely underused tagline “It’s what we do” would pair nicely with telling the general public of how KEE has worked to grow the sport and impart the feeling that the company is made of players who have experienced the difficulties that many of their audience currently face.
Another area where the company can improve is their international representation. KEE Action Sports is currently a Diamond level sponsor of the Millennium Series, the most prominent and well known paintball league in Europe. However, KEE is not the main sponsor of any of the teams competing on the professional level. This is a tremendous missed opportunity for the company. A similar situation would be if Adidas was the official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, but all of the teams competing were wearing Nike while kicking around a Puma ball. If KEE wishes to showcase their brand and the excellence of their products on the European stage, then they will need to actually get the product itself out on the field. This means the sponsorship of a prominent team in the Millennium Series. Finding the right partnership between team and company will be the biggest challenge here. However, as stated before, if there is one area where KEE excels, it is the formulation of strategic partnerships. This partnership between team and company should be no different.
Additionally, if KEE wishes to expand its consumer base and grow the sport as a whole, a few strategic cross-promotional efforts would prove their usefulness rather quickly. One example would be if KEE Action Sports partnered with the Vans Warped Tour or the well renowned X-Games. Both of these organizations share a large amount of the same target audience and could prove wildly effective in spreading interest in both the brand, as well as the sport of paintball in general. The largest hurdle in a partnership such as this will primarily be a matter of determining mutual benefit. However, as previously stated multiple times before, negotiating these types of deals falls directly into KEE’s largest historic strength.
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CIA World Factbook. (2014. Economy [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rankorderguide.html
Harrington, J. (2014). Paintball Company KEE Action Sports closes Clearwater plant, cutting 109 jobs. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from
Loco, B. (2013). Interview with John Robinson, CEO of KEE. View From The Deadbox. Retrieved from
Abernathy, L. (2013). Simon Stevens Leaves KEE Action Sports. SocialPaintball.com. Retrieved from
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SFIA. (2013). 2013 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report. Retrieved from http://www.espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1113/espn_otl_sportsreport.pdf
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