Barron: #OptOutside Plays to REI’s Consumers

Barron: #OptOutside Plays to REIs Consumers

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

As a writer, you are taught to play to your audience; to identify your readers and then appeal to them emotionally and logically. In October of 2015, REI, which defines itself as a purpose-led outdoor co-operative, stunned consumers and competitors alike when they announced their #OptOutside campaign.

Instead of an unbelievable Black Friday sale, the co-op decided to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend by closing all 142 of their stores (now 154) and encouraging employees and patrons to get outdoors. Now, more than 700 other organizations and 8 million people have joined in the tradition of #OptOutside. Despite being closed during the largest retail weekend of the year, REI’s brand continues to grow due to this decision, leading to financial benefits. This result is actually unsurprising when considering REI’s success is dependent on people being engaged in outdoor activities. The #OptOutside initiative is an effective new type of marketing campaign which is consumer-centric instead of financially focused, demonstrating that understanding customers and creating experiences they value is more important than BOGO.

Beginning with TOMS Shoes in 2006, businesses have been capitalizing on our shared humanity to sell products, leading to a more authentic interaction between consumers and suppliers. #OptOutside experienced success its first year. 1.4 million people took part via social media by posting pictures of outdoor adventures occurring Nov. 27, 2015, but would not have experienced the same success in 2016 without REI’s “series of conversations, events, actions, and stories [to] explore what it means to truly Opt Outside.”

This resulted in #OptOutside becoming more than a campaign. Many hailed it as powerful community leadership, as REI partnered with the National Park Service and businesses like Subaru to increase the impact of the initiative. The second year, almost 6 million people participated, building the brand’s reputation, member community and, ultimately, its business. This year REI is reaching out to a new demographic by scaffolding those who may be new to the outdoor community by launching an experiential search engine which will allow people to find out what others are doing to #OptOutside in their area. This outreach will build their community and consumer base.

#OptOutside is a successful campaign because it translates consumer value into their experience as the retailer, building customer loyalty. This advertising model is successful when the company acknowledges its similarities and shared goals with patrons as empathetic messaging resonates with millennial and baby boomer consumers alike. When announcing the 2017 #OptOutside campaign, REI’s CEO Jerry Stritzke showed his understanding of the American psyche when he said, “We are doing this again to unite people … find common ground in the outdoors. Right now, I think people are looking for a moment to take a breath, reground themselves and come together.” Instead of arguing with your problematic relatives or fighting with a soccer mom over an electronic, join the small army of Americans who are accepting REI’s clever marketing campaign and #OptOutside.

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