Last year, REI launched their overwhelmingly successful Black Friday campaign. Rather than opening their stores on Black Friday and playing into the consumerism that the holiday has created, REI decided to close their stores and send their employees home with pay. They promoted their store closure with #OptOutside. The idea behind this hashtag was to spend time with friends and family after Thanksgiving, rather than participating in the shopping madness. Since REI is a company specializing in outdoor gear, #OptOutside took them back to their roots of spending time outdoors. In an interview for AdWeek, Ben Steele, the company’s svp and CCO, described the inspiration behind the idea. He states, “We could never do it, but what if we close on Black Friday? Obviously at face value it seems crazy, but it was all about giving our people the day off and inviting others to join us. Part of this job is about storytelling, but when you can take an action and show people rather than just telling them, it can be really powerful.”
150 additional retailers and the National Parks department decided to participate in the campaign as well. This increased participation helped promote their campaign and turned it into movement, which has surpassed the duration of the holiday season. REI and their followers still use #OptOutside on relevant social media posts.
As an environmental communicator, I love seeing a company stay true to their values, especially ones that include getting outside. REI does an incredible job with their marketing and social media presence. They are consistent with their message framing and this has allowed them to create a strong, cohesive organization. They continue to do this with the type of people they hire and how they present themselves to the public.
The reason for this campaign’s success was the idea that it was interactive and focused on the customer’s experience, rather than the success of the company. It told a story and allowed the customers to see that the values of the company matched up with their own. According to Ad Age, “Companies that truly “get” their customers share their customers’ fundamental values. When companies speak and act in a way that customers can relate to, people are more apt to want to open up and share more of themselves.” As a brand, REI did just that. They promoted their ideals of living life outside in a simple, easy, (and free) way that clearly resonated with the public.