wayne120I test a lot of advertising. I also watch a lot of advertising. And I talk a lot about advertising. And typically, advertising focuses on how a particular company, product or service can improve one’s life. Buy this car and you will look cool. Drink this beverage and you will be skinny. Eat at this restaurant and you will save money. I mean, true there are some that make bolder promises to make the world a better place or ads that tell you a warm and fuzzy story so that you, in turn, will feel warm and fuzzy inside. But overall, companies are usually selling you something in their advertisements and communications.

And believe me, I am not going to come out and say this doesn’t work. Advertisements that sell work.. And this isn’t going to change. It’s the primary objective of advertising. But I also know that companies are looking for more effective ways to engage consumers. With people watching less and less traditional advertising, being disruptive is becoming more and more important.

And one recent campaigndid something that caught my attention and — according to my Google news feed — caught the attention of others. REI’s #OptOutside campaign, which is tied centrally to its decision to remain closed on Black Friday, has caused quite a bit of waves. The move has not only created buzz for the brand (social media mentions of the brand are way up) but it has helped to paint REI as a company that has the best interests of its consumers in mind.

Whether this will turn into sales is as of yet unknown, Nonetheless, REI is doing extremely well in the court of public opinion. And I think it goes beyond simple goodwill. This campaign is a perfect storm of positives and I think other brands should take note:

Being authentic and trustworthy: 

As marketers and researchers, we all know being authentic is important, especially when it comes to Millennials. We have seen the importance of trustworthiness to Millennials when it comes to their news sources  but overall, authenticity and trustworthiness are simply important characteristics for brands in general. According to research published by MarketingCharts last year trustworthiness and authenticity rate high in terms of factors that positively affect Millennial opinions of brands.

Being authentic (not just for Millennials, but for all consumers) is not easy. Serving the common good as REI is doing here is step one, but skepticism abounds with consumers. We saw it a few years ago with concerns over greenwashing.   It  just seems in human nature to distrust brands, even when they are purporting to serve others. REI, however, is living this #OptOutside movement. Not only are they encouraging consumers to eschew shopping on Black Friday but they are also paying their employees to go outside and enjoy the day. This move helps to take this movement from simply a marketing gimmick to a belief. And the other interesting piece of this? This entire campaign should now serve as a foundation for authenticity and enhance the REI brand moving forward.

And fair treatment of their employees is often a piece of what is driving positive reception. Just check out some of what is being said on their Facebook page:

“I just saw your black friday post on hulu. I am impressed and wanted to say bravo. Thank you for thinking of your employees.” – Jenny Jewett

“I just placed my first order ever from your website (though I’ve shopped at retail stores occasionally when I used to live near one). Thank you for not only not opening on Thanksgiving but also for giving your employee’s Black Friday off!” – Ruth Kuryla

Research tip Really understand how your brand is performing on a measure of authenticity and use qualitative research to explore ways to improve it. Use research to not only uncover what does and does not make a brand authentic but also what current brand traits can hurt any moves towards authenticity.

Adhere it to your company mission:

REI has done a great job creating something that serves the common good and ties directly to its company mission. REI’s mission and brand identity is built around the idea that “being outside makes our lives better.” This creates such an easy connection between this campaign and the overall company perspective. REI in general wants to get its customers outside so #OptOutside is an easy leap for a customer to make.

And again, people are noticing. Looking through their Instagram, I came across this quote:

“You guys are the best. Living your mission to the core…admirable!” – alexiscoram

Research tip Understanding fit with brand is a pretty standard measure for most campaign tests but brands really need to explore the “why” behind measures such as these to really understand elements that fit their brand best. Additionally, brands should consider asking their customers what they would do if they were in charge. This not only can generate good ideas but also help a brand understand where they can go and potential watchouts.

Make it 360:

REI has taken advantage of numerous outlets to get this message out there. From traditional video advertisements (some featuring CEO Jerry Stritzke, yet one more step towards trustworthiness) to usage of social media outlets, REI has created #OptOutside touchpoints at virtually every step and in creative ways. As of this post, the #OptOutside hashtag has 13,178 posts from people sharing their photos and experiences in the great outdoors. On, REI has set up a countdown to until REI closes on Black Friday. So now, not only have they created a message, they have created a conversation.

Research tip It’s great and necessary to understand overall reception of actual ads being shown on television or throughout social media, but it’s just as important to understand what your customers are talking about on social media as well so you can be part of their natural conversation. Consider asking existing and potential customers what they are doing, sharing and interacting with most on social media before you start creating those campaigns.

I, for one, am interested to see where this takes REI as a brand but I already think we can chalk this one up as a success.

Opting outside,

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