I’m sure every millennial with a heartbeat and Internet connection has heard or seen this word somewhere in some way over the Thanksgiving season.
As American holidays fast approach, the American outdoor clothing company Patagonia has brought in over $10 million to cap off this year’s Black Friday’s sales. And while most companies with that sort of win would have shareholders running a victory lap around their corporate HQ with baseball bats crying for a dividend payout, Patagonia instead opted to donate every single penny of their global retail earnings on Black Friday to grassroots environmental organizations dedicated to benefiting the planet.
This isn’t anything new. Patagonia has done things like this before. They’ve just decided to up their game. And it worked. In the wake of the one of the most divisive election seasons in history that has once-optimistic Americans cross country smothering themselves in forts of blankets, Netflix and cookie dough ice cream in hand, Patagonia’s campaign couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
From a PR perspective, as an intern at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Shanghai, I think Patagonia is winning big time in more ways than one with this. Not just in sales, but also more importantly, by positioning itself as the brand leader of environmental issues and protector of Mother Earth. And that’s fantastic.
Just look at their executive’s ‘title’ as he interviewed on CNN Money earlier this week. “Rick Ridgeway, Vice President of Environmental Affairs”. I didn’t even know cool green-friendly corporate titles like that existed for a clothing company, but I dig it, and when I saw it, I half-expected Leonardo to pop up next to him promoting Before the Flood. This is the power of branding. Patagonia streamlines it all perfectly.
And hell, if I had known that job title was available when I was in kindergarten and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up…
Here’s are the best parts of Patagonia’s Black Friday campaign in which they donated $10 million to benefit the earth:
- It’s experiential for the consumer
- It’s a huge gamble
- It’s organic PR
- It’s a subliminal fuck you to Donald Trump
Hear me out.
Everything in the global marketplace is shifting towards experience. The light-up pinball machines and primitive video games of the 70s were just the beginning of an experiential digital revolution shift that has driven us into a completely uncharted realm of what companies can offer the consumer aside from the raw physical product and the primary utility it provides.
As modern markets become more and more saturated by Insta-obnoxious ethos meant to pull at the strings of consumer’s hearts with hopes that they pull out their wallets, the rise of tech has meanwhile made it very clear that the reality we see in front of us is merely one snippet of an ever-changing magical landscape. The old school ways of Don Draper-esque advertising and PR are in the rearview, and the rise of tech has opened revolving doors leading straight to fantasyland.
All in all, consumers are sick of the old way of doing things. Patagonia fills this void.
They want something more genuine. They want new experiences. Something bigger than money and life and living. They don’t want to be blatantly manipulated and herded like cattle into buying things they don’t even really want or need.
By providing customers and consumers with experiences, BY ADDING VALUE TO THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE, pioneering brands and companies like Patagonia will discover new ways to add value to the world while also paying their own bills and promoting their respective brand. The intrinsic desire-to-connect wired landscape of human nature mixed with the rise of tech, is beginning to provide completely new experience-geared consumption and interaction that companies need to capitalize on. Patagonia did this with their campaign by providing an experience, which I am getting to. Hang with me.
The trick to it though is keeping it human. While interacting with customers on a human level is still relatively simple today, it will become more complex as tech rapidly advances and the world turns more Matrix-like by the second. However, this complexity provides new opportunity.
New amazing and interactive consumer experiences in a virtual world will soon be commonplace. People want the novel. Personalized VR, online shopping, mind-blowing augmented experiences with friends online that somehow simultaneously promote a brand or company, advertising, AI-aided everything, companies pulling data about customers from their virtual existences to implement in this world’s marketplace, etc. The list goes on. Experience, marketplace, entertainment, and marketing will all fuse into one strange reality in a dimension we don’t know exists yet. It’s all far-fetched and big data but it’s here, coming fast, and will be straight out of a sci-fi film.
While Patagonia’s campaign had little to do with the crazy tech such as online VR retail stores that will eventually allow common consumers to enter a VR retail store to touch-and-buy items and directly purchase+ship to their homes, Patagonia tugged on a similar, more human thread by simply providing its customers with value; a unique experience. This is VR’s appeal and where retail shopping and many other industries are heading. Life revolves around human experience. People love experiences. Since were born into this world, all we know is experience.
Patagonia, by proposing they would donate all their Black Friday earnings to environmental organizations to benefit the planet, offered consumers a ‘chance to save the world’ through purchase. And who wouldn’t be down for that experience? Especially in light of recent negative political events that have left so many pessimistic and anxiety-ridden about the future of mankind and social justice.
When you see Patagonia’s proposal; whether you’re a Patagonia traditionalist, potential new customer, occasional shopper, or environmental radicalist, who doesn’t want to save the world? Sure, you know what, it’s the holidays, I like your style Patagonia, and I’ll buy a shirt. Boom. There’s a sale.
It’s always a good shopping experience knowing your dollars are going somewhere worthwhile, instead of just some old dude’s pocket. Patagonia’s campaign made pulling the trigger easy for consumers because the dollars spent are going to a good cause and represent an admirable idea. It took away the guilt factor during the holiday season, strengthened the company’s brand as leader of the outdoors and altruistic protector of the planet, and provided consumers a small dose of experience of what it would be like to save the planet. (Sometimes I like to strip butt-naked, dress up like Superman, and then jump off my bed and fly around the room yelling, “I’ll save you America!!” but don’t tell anyone).
All because of this, news and shares of Patagonia’s Black Friday environmental donation campaign spread like a wildfire across the web and through word of mouth. It’s a do-good/feel-good campaign, and it rocks my socks off. It’s organic PR. And it’s the best PR.
The best part is that I doubt Patagonia shelled out thousands to a PR firm to make this happen (or maybe they did ;). But anyhow, the buzz, shares, and hype of the campaign came naturally.
Patagonia didn’t need billboards and blimps to get the word out.
So, in addition to the superhero-save the world feeling it provided consumers, the positive experience, and the impressively organic PR, what’s also awesome is:
The gamble factor:
The fact that the company assumed the risk of putting their brand on the line publically by not knowing ahead of time how much they would actually sell on Black Friday (aka how much money they would lose) was pure entertainment.
Consumer’s picked up on the financial risk Patagonia was taking on, and the whole idea practically begged the consumers to check back in to see how much the company actually sold, raised, donated, (and envitably lost).
All of this aided the campaign’s organic push. That’s the neatest thing. There wasn’t much force behind it besides Patagonia’s executives meeting for beers one night and deciding, ‘Lets donate everything we make this Black Friday, it’ll be great’, and then announcing it.
Who picked it up? Consumers. Instantly. It spread like a wildfire. Everyone I know saw it. I couldn’t scroll my newsfeed without seeing it once or twice a day. My mom shared it on Facebook, my friends back home sent me news links about it, my Chinese coworkers mentioned it, and even Castro rolled over in his grave wishing he had come up with something as dandy as this during his day.
And soon enough we had Fortune, CNN Money, AdWeek, and countless others covering Patagonia’s Black Friday hit.
Case in point:
- It was experiential for the consumer (if you buy Patagonia, you’re saving the world and helping the environment-a totally new experience)
- It entertainment in itself (the gamble/risk factor)
- It was organic (Patagonia didn’t need to spend a lot promoting its campaign)
Then again, they did (lose) $10 million in holiday season profits so I guess they did spend a lot of money promoting it…but I applaud their long game and dedication to helping out our planet. It’s an authentic 2-birds, 1-stone kind of gig and I love it. Good old symbiosis.
On one last note, it’s a subliminal fuck you to Donald Trump.
One thing set in stone is that Trump adamantly campaigned against Paris Climate Agreement, a recently ratified agreement by world leaders to reduce global temperatures and combat climate change. Essentially, it’s one of Obama’s presidency trophies and the future of mankind, and Trump wants to trash it.
(C’mon man, at least recycle it)
Personally, I think Trump is an idiot. And so does Patagonia.
By launching its campaign to protect the environment and benefit the planet, when matched up with statements made by execs at the company, it’s clear the company’s Black Friday campaign is also a pushback against the derogatory rhetoric and ideals Trump built a piece of his campaign on. While Trump claimed climate change is a Chinese conspiracy meant to paralyze American industry, Patagonia stands:
“During a time of catastrophic environmental crisis, when America needs strong leadership to confront the fundamental threat of climate change, voter turnout threatens to reach historic lows as people are turned off by the ugliness of politics,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario stated. “As a business, we have a unique ability to take a stand and choose to prioritize the health of the planet over profit, and I think it’s important we take that opportunity when it truly matters.”
All in all, I couldn’t agree more. More companies should take note of how Patagonia is playing the game. Helping the world, taking constructive social action, providing people with new experiences, and making (losing) money all at the same time. And the timing of it all is golden.
Cheers to Patagonia and thank you for doing something original and good for the world. Rock on.