/ Alter Agents

2015 Holiday Marketing: REI’s #OptOutside Reveals 9 Truths

November 6, 2015

2015 Holiday Marketing: REI's #OptOutside Reveals 9 Truths

Outdoor retailer REI’s announcement that it will remain closed on Black Friday could turn into a case study in holiday marketing. That’s because it is a brilliant marketing move cloaked within a nice gesture. So, in a way, everyone wins. 

REI’s #OptOutside clearly appeals to younger consumers who value social good. While REI won’t make any money on November 27, it still stands to make big gains before and after as a result.

The campaign itself is REI-specific in certain respects. Other brands shouldn’t simply copy REI to appeal to consumers’ good nature and/or make headlines.

REI’s #OptOutside also reflects aspects of U.S. culture and consumer attitudes and behaviors going into the 2015 holiday season.

Here’s what marketers can glean from REI’s anti-campaign.

1. Shrewdness Pays Off

#OptOutside is a bold move that seems riskier at first blush than it really is.

The retailer is shrewdly playing to its core audience here, according to Rebecca Brooks, partner at Alter Agents. The brand not only came out a month ahead of Black Friday to get far ahead of the trend and look like a leader, but it has also launched an #OptOutside microsite to further capitalize, she noted.

This isn’t a totally selfless act by REI. The brand likely won’t suffer as a result of its altruism.

In fact, according to David Waterman, senior director of earned media and SEO at The Search Agency, REI likely discovered most of its holiday sales were shifting to online sales after Black Friday anyway.

“I’m sure they make a significant percentage of their annual revenue on Black Friday, but their marketing team probably got a hold of this data and figured that making a stand against Black Friday would provide them with enough free promotion to make up for any Black Friday sales they would have had,” he said.

Further, Ashley Orndorff, director of marketing for Visual Impact Group, called this is a viral social campaign that has catapulted brand awareness to record heights.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see their online sales increase substantially this year due to their closing retail stores and running this campaign the way they have,” she said.

2. You Catch More Flies With Honey

Campaigns with an element of social good, such as #OptOutside, could be the wave of the future.

Doing good results in good, which is good in and of itself, but also inspires consumer good will, which brands can capitalize upon later.

3. Brands Must Fully Commit To Holiday Efforts

180LA Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Larkin notes what’s even more special about #OptOutside is the fact REI will be paying its 12,000 employees and will be closing down its ecommerce site that day as well.

“REI is not just half-wet, they went all-in,” he said.

4. Holiday Campaigns Can Pay Dividends All Year

Janice Pollard, senior marketing manager at HelloWorld, says #OptOutside could even result in increased loyalty among intensely loyal Millennials who are attracted by an effort like this.

5. Memorable Campaigns Push The Envelope

It’s likely there will be many shameless attempts to capitalize on #OptOutside that end in failure for brands that are trying to cash in on the opportunity, said Cody Simmonds, strategist at Struck.

“That’s what separates the Millennial from the previous generations: They are not swayed by impostors, but rather laugh and dismiss such attempts,” he said.

Waterman agrees any other brand that takes a stand against Black Friday this year won’t get the same level of promotion REI as they’ll merely be seen as following REI’s lead.

6. Create Your Own Unique Holiday Blueprint

#OptOutside works for REI because it fits within the brand ethos. But not all brands could, or should, pull this off.

“If Toys R Us or Walmart were to do this, consumers would call bullshit on this and fast. In fact, it would hurt their brands,” Larkin said.

Further, Waterman says REI should have probably never participated in Black Friday in the first place.

“It goes against the ethos of their customer base,” he said. “So taking a stand against Black Friday and pushing an #OptOutside movement is an easy win for a brand that promotes outdoor living 365 days a year.”

7. Consumer Attitudes About The Holidays Are Shifting

#OptOutside will garner attention because it taps into a cultural longing to reclaim deeper human meaning during a season that has been effectively hollowed out by rampant consumerism, says Sarah Rubinstein, senior strategist at Havas Worldwide.

“Other brands sense this opportunity,” she adds. “Espousing communion over consumption is a great way to build relevance with a culture that is fatigued by holiday shopping hype and newscasts of Black Friday violence.”

John Sisson, president of Wilde Agency, goes as far as calling it “marketing gold”: “It’s the story of how a company treats its employees. It’s a story of caring. It’s the story of putting others before yourself,” he says.

Orndorff agrees REI has made a move that tells its customers it supports and respects family, which “makes [the] brand human and relatable and sends a message that [it cares] about its employees and customers.”

8. Brands Must Make More Meaningful Connections

Julie Lyons, president and COO of Zenzi, says #OptOutside goes deeper than simply connecting with Millennials, Generation Z, or any specific demographic, to reaching consumers on a subconscious level.

“Targeting demographics is no longer enough. As a result, many brands are realizing the importance of psychographics to connect with customers on a deeper level,” she said. “Backed by decades of proven psychological research from renowned psychologist Shalom Schwartz, values are the one constant about human beings that rarely change. They are the forces that motivate us and the way we prioritize them speaks to the heart of our identity: where we work, what we buy, what we say.”

Lyons says #OptOutside is one of a growing number of examples of brands like Toyota, Expedia, Jaguar and Harry Winston, which she says are looking to connect with consumers with these shared values.

9. Listen To Consumers & Nurture Relationships

REI made a move that many others should have made already – and it was predicated on one simple concept: understanding what social media is all about, said Kyle Reyes, president and creative director of The Silent Partner Marketing.

“For the past couple of years, a growing number of people have been latching onto social media trends calling for businesses to be closed on Black Friday. And yet in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, businesses have widely ignored this,” Reyes said.

The real question now, he added, is whether businesses will become open and receptive to feedback from consumers based on what’s trending on social media.

“Small businesses to large corporations have largely failed at social media. Why? They use it to do nothing more than sell and to talk to customers, as opposed to engaging and having conversations with them,” he said. “Social media isn’t about selling, and businesses need to stop demanding a calculation of the ROI of marketing on social media. If the goal is conversions, they should leverage Facebook Dark Posts. If the goal is creating brand ambassadors, they need to do a much better job of nurturing relationships with social.”

What do you think is the most valuable holiday marketing lesson here?

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