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Selling More Than Clothes

Posted At: January 21, 2012 3:30 PM
by Sarah Shea

Traditionally, the very basis of advertising consists of “selling” something. Perhaps this is selling a soda, a pair of shoes or a cheeseburger.

“Normal” ads tell consumers why they should buy something. Take, for example, a jacket. An outdoor clothing company may choose to sell a jacket based on its warmth or unique style. After creating the product, the company may launch an advertising campaign based on selling the qualities of that particular jacket. The ads will appeal to consumers in hopes of earning profit from sales, right?

One would think. Patagonia, on the other hand, launched an entire campaign telling people not to buy a jacket. The company’s standpoint certainly garners attention.

Patagonia, a privately owned outdoors company, launched the campaign in the midst of holiday sales galore. While other companies encouraged spending with incentives like free shipping on purchases over $150 or 20 percent of an entire order, Patagonia encouraged the exact opposite.

The new campaign aligns with the existing mission statement of Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

The campaign

The campaign made its debut on Black Friday in November 2011. Patagonia changed the home page of its website to the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad and also ran it in the New York Times. The website features a video in conjunction with the ad, further explaining the Common Threads Initiative, the basis of the ad campaign.

The initiative is designed to “reduce [the] environmental footprint” and “give the planet’s vital systems a rest from pollution, resource depletion and greenhouse gases.”

Kendra Pierre-Louis, a sustainability professional and author for Urban Times, said, ” . . . they’re putting their money where their mouth is and saying, [‘]hey it’s ok if you don’t buy so much stuff and in fact it’s better for the planet if you don’t.[’]”

The five “R’s” of the campaign are reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine. Rather than just stating these platforms, the company explains how to put them into action with an interactive guide. Patagonia uses this approach as a tool to simultaneously promote some of its programs.

Under the “repair” heading, for example, Patagonia explains the conditions of the company’s product repairs. By doing this, Patagonia supports the campaign’s objective and sells its services.

Users are prompted to “take the pledge” to reduce their footprint after clicking on the Common Threads Initiative ad. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to receive 50,000 pledges.

The jacket

The point of the jacket, specifically, is to outline the impact a single article of clothing can have on the environment. The R2 jacket is one of 14 items tracked in The Footprint Chronicles.

In the chronicles, the jacket’s environmental impact is outlined explicitly — users can learn that the jacket travels more than 7,000 miles throughout its creation and uses the same energy of an 18W light bulb for 100 days.

The other items are followed in the same way.

The approach

Patagonia’s nontraditional approach to advertising definitely turns heads; whether the campaign will prevent people from buying Patagonia’s revered outdoors wear . . . that’s debatable.

Only a strong company could make an equally strong move. By putting sales on the line, Patagonia shows its customers its true devotion to the environment.

With this questionable business move, Patagonia appeals to its consumer base — individuals who already care about the same issues.

“I think one it clearly plays to their base – environmentally engaged consumers,” Pierre-Louis said. “On the other hand I also think it expands their base by attracting the attention of people who didn’t really know the brand or only knew of them nominally.”

Through building this type of consumer support in a corporate social responsibility campaign of sorts, Patagonia lets users know how much it cares. In turn, the same customers may still buy a jacket, but probably not without thinking twice.

“Patagonia is really pushing for people to pause and consider their purchases and to maybe even walk away empty handed,” Pierre-Louis said.

Regardless, the campaign’s message is catchy and serves its purpose.

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