A very interesting sustainability communications campaign, aiming to reduce waste and excessive consumerism, was the 2011 Black Friday advertising campaign by sustainable outdoors apparel and equipment company Patagonia. The ad has the following text following the picture of a jacket and instruction “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET”

It’s Black Friday, the day in the year retail turns from red to black and starts to make real money. But Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We’re now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet. Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

The message to consumers, use only what you need, is a simple yet effective one. The aim was to ask people to change their perspective and habits from a disposable throw away culture to one where we reuse, repair and recycle our garments and possessions.

This is a remarkable message for a company that’s business model is selling outdoor equipment. However, unlike many apparel brands, or any type of companies for that matter, it is owned by just one person whose mission is to “Save our home planet”. Patagonia wants to use its business, investment and influence to alert attention to the threat of irreversible environmental damage to the planet.

However, was it successful? Well that depends on what success is – changing consumer habits or selling more jackets. Patagonia has grown sales ahead of peers and the broader market, with growth rates in excess of 10% and over 20% over the financial crisis. Impressive!

So sceptical people would claim that the campaign was a cynical attempt to grow sales through shock tactics. But I think this would be unfair, the company has significantly raised awareness of the environmental damage of fast fashion and has publicised reuse, repair and recycling with their own services, where damaged garments are not thrown away, but instead repaired.

Patagonia does well while doing good because the company’s environmental efforts are genuine, evidenced in their deeds by using organic cotton, designing sustainability into their product and repairing and recycling clothes. In 2001 Patagonia partnered with fly fishing equipment outfit Blue Ribbon Flies to create 1% for the Planet, a coalition of businesses that pledged to donate 1% of their sales to grassroots environmental groups. The company also advocates and encourages others to improve with the CEO working with retail giant Wal-Mart about how it could adopt more sustainable practices – it also operates a website where ordinary people can find environmental causes and get involved in activism.

So the Black Friday ad campaign was successful in my view of raising awareness of the impact the clothes we wear has on the environment – and to move towards a more sustainable form of consumption.


One Comment Add yours

  1. cislc8chris says:

    Hi Martin I agree with your perspective that this was a successful campaign in how it brought more attention to the unsustainable effects of fast fashion. However, I think the main skill of the campaign is in it’s timing and the way it used a growing cultural insight to speak to an audience beyond Patagonia’s existing customer base – many of whom are already converts to this cause.

    It’s counter intuitive message struck a chord because it was timed to coincide with Black Friday, a point in the calendar that has become a symbol of over-consumption and excess. The notoriety of the day has also recently begun to spur a counter-cultural response – to consume less and this is what Patagonia recognised and amplified in their campaign and in so doing achieved a much wider attention than it might have done were it to have been launched at another moment or aligning with a different cultural movement.

    It shows the importance of timing and of truly understanding your audience and how to evoke the response you are looking for. A simply message, well executed and with very little media spend. A great example.


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