“Don’t Buy This Jacket” is a Big Brand Moment for Patagonia: Consumer Responses to Patagonia’s Black Friday Campaign

Last week, Patagonia took out this full-page ad in The New York Times:

The message was delivered in the wake of a CBS 60 Minutes segment which revealed that a staggering 25% of American children live in poverty, a national recession, unprecedented consensus about environmental peril, and raging political division. In the midst of this multi-pronged crisis, consumption still has such a hold on Americans that this last Black Friday saw crowds shoving, brawling, and pepper spraying one another over waffle irons and Xboxes.

Patagonia is asking us to take a breath. But it’s also tapping into the zeitgeist.

Distributed in the most traditional of all media (albeit followed by a massive mailer to 750,000 email subscribers), the message asks buyers to buy only what they need – intended as a plea against Black Friday overconsumption. According to Patagonia, manufacturing a single best-selling R2 jacket “required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60% recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds its weight in waste.”

The ad generated a frenzy of comment and speculation.

Patagonia, a private company, has the luxury – unlike a business with legal responsibilities to shareholders – of being able to ask its customers to not buy its product. But many criticized the business for being hypocritical.

In an interview with IBTimes, Christina Speed, Patagonia’s Marketing Director, took on critics that claimed the ad was a stunt. Some suggested that if Patagonia wanted to make an impact, they should put an end to their business altogether.

“You don’t have to martyr yourself to change the world. We’re not promoting an end to business. We think business is one of the most powerful tools for change. We prove nothing if we’re not successful … who’s going to listen to us if we’re not profitable?”

Because we thrive on consumer sentiment and outlook here at Communispace, we were naturally interested in seeing what consumer response to the ad was like.

On The Cleanest Line, Patagonia’s blog, one customer refused to take Speed at her word:

The opinion was not unique across the web. But others saw the ad as igniting a conversation:

On MarcGunther.com:

In comments on RetailWire.com, Patagonia’s understanding of its customers aspirations took center stage:

But perhaps what really resonated with those familiar with Patagonia – and the subsequent conversations online – was that the ad reinforces Patagonia’s existing brand essence. Whether or not the ad was a tactic or play for attention mattered less than the fact that the message reflected everything people associate with the brand. And that’s a powerful thing, both for the company’s relationships with customers and the credibility it lends sustainability efforts.

On AdAge:

And on DesignGush:

We think the boldness shown in the advertising campaign – and the way it deftly advances both Patagonia’s goals of brand building while reducing environmental impact – make this a big brand moment.

So, to you our readers, we ask:

  • Does a campaign like this make you a more loyal buyer, or does it feel like a ploy? Can it be both?
  • How can brands credibly promote good?
  • What other companies have had “Big Brand Moments” – moments that define and cement their position and brand essence in bold ways?

You can learn more about Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative here.

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3 thoughts on ““Don’t Buy This Jacket” is a Big Brand Moment for Patagonia: Consumer Responses to Patagonia’s Black Friday Campaign

  1. This reminds me of the Dove Real Beauty Campaign… a beauty company that thrives on womens’ insecurities telling them to be more confident about themselves…. The difference I see here is that Patagonia can actually prove its credibility on an operational level just by nature of the products it makes. Dove could not… It only had one option to prove its credibility outside of the Real Beauty ads: by donating money to self-esteem funds for women. That in itself seemed like a PR ploy because funneling money to these organizations was not central to Dove’s actual business activities.

    Another aspect of the Patagonia ad that really captured my attention was its strong focus on the negative environmental production impact of the jacket. I think it’s quite intelligent given that it is not criticizing the core product itself but rather the unfortunate circumstances that allow the jacket to reach consumers. Dove has never criticized its products in its Real Beauty Campaigns (nor has it strongly connected its core products’ functionalities specifically to elevating self esteem).

    Comparing the two, I would say that Patagonia has an advantage over Dove in terms credibility in its marketing message!

  2. Great comparison, Matt. Definitely reminiscent, and I agree that Patagonia definitely comes out on top in terms of the perceived authenticity of the message.

    While digging deeper, I found this: http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=2388

    It’s a well-thought out and sincere blog post from way back in 2004 called “Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It,” co-authored by one of Patagonia’s owners – showing that the “Don’t Buy (unless you need)” message really is central to the company’s value system.

    I think buyers can tell.

  3. 1. Does a campaign like this make you a more loyal buyer, or does it feel like a ploy? Can it be both?
    It makes me a more loyal buyer, but I still have my suspicions. After finding out that Unilever makes both Dove AND Axe products, I lost trust in the Dove brand and am now more wary of what’s really driving campaigns like this. However, I do recognize that no matter the cause, a business is still a business and has to make profit somehow–campaigns that seem underhanded may actually not be, at the core.

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