Black Friday Outsider

Pants are already fitting a bit tight. I can’t escape Mariah Carey (like I want to anyway, amirite?). And cuffing season is upon us. Holidays are here folks! Outside of the actual super bowl, this time of year is like the super bowl for advertisers. Plenty of people have picked up on the contradiction of Black Friday – fighting each other for stuff the day after we give thanks for what we have. It’s tricky to walk the line between evoking a sense of community, family, and generosity while trying to sell things we don’t need. And to try to figure out unique approaches each and every year?  Sheeeeesh. One company has the cojones to diverge from the DEALS DEAL DEALS approach. Maybe you’ve seen your friends using the hashtag #optoutside with a (staged) candid picture of them casually looking over a mountain side? This campaign was started by REI in 2015. The outdoor outfitter shut down their stores on Black Friday and Thanksgiving asking people to enjoy family, friends, and the outdoors instead. Pretty bold move given the amount of holiday shopping happening on that one day, but its a smart move. Much like Patagonia, REI is very cognizant of how over-consumption contributes to our environmental problems. They realized that declaring they are a responsible company,  but contributing to a holiday that promotes overindulgence would be hypocritical. And it doesn’t hurt they get free publicity through the stunt every year.  Check out this video featuring photos and videos from participants that used the hashtag. My favorite part of this content is its omission of Black Friday. After 2 years, I’m guessing that was a move to distance the campaign from why it started in the first place to create a lasting movement.


And this year, they took it a step further. Part of the reason I moved to Oregon from NYC was to have more access to the outdoors. Sometimes, without a car, I felt trapped in all the concrete. REI must have taken note of the people the movement could be excluding, and realized the opportunity in a large, populated city. They partnered with Lyft to provide $10 off rides to national parks around major cities like Portland and Washington DC. Surprisingly, the first I heard of this was through research for this post. Lyft promoted it on social media, but I haven’t seen any mention of it on REI’s end. Perhaps Lyft wanted control over that promotion? Either way, I think there was major opportunity to cross promote this partnership that may have been missed. It will be interesting to see if it continues next year.


Although a few companies have followed suit by closing on Thanksgiving Day, such as T.J. Maxx and Costco, none (I’ve seen at least) have followed in REI’s footsteps by closing on Black Friday. However, I would argue there are very few major retail companies that this strategy would make sense for. The REIs and Patagonias of the world have a deep appreciation of nature baked into their mission that makes this move a good business decision. I’m afraid mimicking the movement REI created would only dilute its message meant to be perpetuated by ordinary people. If other companies are looking for bold, thought-provoking campaigns such as this, they should examine their mission and decide how they can create a movement that reinforces their own values.




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