Published on November 22, 2017, 3:23 at p.m.
by Hope Runyan.
No skipping the pumpkin pie. No waiting in lines. No Black Friday shopping.
In 2015, outdoor retailer REI stood up against one of the busiest shopping days of the year — Black Friday — and won. Well, at least with the company’s publics.
Four weeks prior to the shopping holiday in 2015, REI announced its plan to close the doors of its then 143 retail locations. As for the employees? The co-op paid all 12,000 staff members to take the day off and embrace the REI brand mentality — to live a better life outside.
The anti-promotional campaign made waves on social media with the hashtag #OptOutside; it not only called upon REI’s members and staff, but every single customer. REI even launched a webpage to let folks share their alternate Black Friday activities online. In addition, the site offered ideas for different activities — hiking, mountain biking, climbing, trail running and skiing/boarding.
Venables Bell & Partners, Edelman and Starcom Mediavest Group were included in the collaboration efforts behind the campaign. In 2016, #OptOutside took home a Grand Prix in both the Promo & Activation and Titanium Lions categories from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
After REI placed a single ad in The New York Times using the hashtag and quoting naturalist John Muir, the campaign was officially in the public eye — and became a huge media success. The #OptOutside coverage ranged from outdoor enthusiast bloggers to daily morning shows across the country.
The reaction on social media was astonishing. According to the Cannes Lions case study, impressions rose 7,000 percent with 1.2 billion social media impressions. REI reported that 1.4 million people chose to head into nature on Black Friday rather than to the mall. In wake of the campaign, 170 organizations and businesses across the country also closed for Black Friday.
Why it matters
The outdoor retailer did so much more than simply create a catchy hashtag; REI inspired a national movement far larger than the company itself. The outdoor industry exists to get individuals outside, whether it’s selling gear, clothing or anything else. What you choose to do with that equipment is up to you, but outdoor retailers strive to sell the idea of living a greater, happier life outside.
By launching the #OptOutside campaign, REI reinforced the experience that customers and members have with the brand and the opportunities it provides. A tent may not seem like a life-changing piece of equipment until it’s your home for weekend getaways or stress-relieving trips — or, ultimately, until it transforms the way you spend your time, even on days like Black Friday.
REI strengthened its relationship with its publics by being completely transparent about its decision to close on Black Friday. There wasn’t a hidden agenda, and the company’s honesty resonated with its publics (which resulted in the decision of 1.4 million individuals to venture outside).
The co-op has continued the #OptOutside movement and in 2016 created “#OptOutside: Will you go out with me?” Along with 275 national and local organizations, REI once again asked Americans to explore the outdoors during the Thanksgiving weekend. And once again, a remarkable amount of individuals chose to spend time outside.
By redefining Black Friday, REI started an important conversation — why does Black Friday exist, and more importantly, why should we care? So if you’re deciding which store to hit the day after Thanksgiving, do your soul (and wallet) a favor and #OptOutside this year.