Wanna see a cool ads that came out late October 2015?
The campaign stands out. This apparently anti-Black Friday message, primarily conveyed through moving pictures of mystical clouds and pristine mountainsides is brought to you by outdoor gear retailer, REI. Have you visited the microsite? It’s as beautiful and simple and innocuously subversive as the commercial linked above.
In very few words, the #OPTOUTSIDE campaign delivers the well-received point that enjoying nature is better than being a chump in the infamous Black Friday crowd. I wish we could each get a dollar for every time we saw the words “Black Friday Madness!” paired with a ridiculous video. We could all finally stop pretending we live in a meritocracy and just endlessly click on Youtube clips of 4am retail stampedes. Not only is the #OPTOUTSIDE imagery far more pleasant than that reality, the campaign’s appeal lies in the fact it idealizes non-consumerism, at least for a day.
I like seeing an anti-consumerism ideas in the spotlight because arguably, the root cause of our various environmental and social failings is the developed world’s consumption patterns. Liberal/Science just wrote a piece on the widespread and harmful belief that we humans own or should own anything that fits in our theoretical shopping carts. He essentially calls this an issue of misappropriating and mis-regarding (if you will) natural resources. Also, among other things, he lays out an explanation for why the currently popular way of seeing our planet’s materials harms us all. I encourage you to read it. Right now!
All that in mind, it’s imperative for “thoughtful and minimal consumption” to find its way into our list of core American values. This is not to be a value fit for only “the hippies”; this is a value that needs to right up there with the classic “meritocracy” and “prosperity” values. Some person, group, or system needs to spread “thoughtful and minimal consumption” message effectively, and so far, “some person, group or system” is struggling with it. The conversation on stemming overconsumption exists, but not loudly enough to register in the ears of most overconsumers when the “shop more” conversation rings in our ears. Right now, “consume less” is a fringe idea.
Despite and because of this struggle, I happen to be particularly interested in how advertising concepts could re-brand this value so that it succeeds in mainstream ideologies, in how it advertising could help Americans implement this value into their behavior. The conversation on stemming overconsumption exists, but not loudly enough to register in the ears of most overconsumers when the “shop more” conversation rings in our ears. REI’s ad campaign blips onto my radar because it in many ways exemplifies why advertising concepts would help spread unpopular but important ideas. The campaign positions not shopping in a way that is pretty, polished, easy to agree with, surprising, original, and sharable. And, what’s made the ad popular (clearly, popular at least as far as blog mentions, and probably with its target audience) is that it thrives on anti-consumerism. “#OPTOUTSIDE” might make the thought of choosing environment over objects blip on someone else’s radar for the first time; it could contribute to changing someone’s unawareness or apathy towards the problems of over-consumption.
But, for all the cool things that it is, REI’s #OPTOUTSIDE is also specious. REI still exists to sell goods, and this campaign exists to make a target audience choose REI’s stuff next time they want outdoor gear. While #OPTOUTSIDE promulgates the appreciation of the outdoors and anti-consumption, this message comes from a retailer. It comes with a purpose: it’s a total brand move. Business blogs are praising this campaign as a new marketing paragon and deconstructing why the closure of its 143 stores will pay off for REI in terms of brand identity and consumer loyalty. The idea to pay its employees to take the day off and into nature could well have come within REI’s marketing department or from the ad agency (see acknowledgments). So, the campaign might seem anti-consumerism, but let’s also not forget which season we’re in. REI’s anti-Black Friday is probably about to give way to pro-holiday shopping. It’s ironic. Americans need anti-consumption leaders, and the stewards of that message should not be the entities that estimate they’ll get a financial return on putting that “bold” message out. The best stewards of that message shouldn’t be the groups that exist to mass-produce and sell goods.
This Black Friday, the understandable alacrity toward supporting REI’s admittedly cool message of environmental appreciation and anti-consumerism will lead tree-huggers to Instagram their ski day with the caption “#OPTOUTSIDE.” Really, I’d much rather we altogether opt out of the insidious systems enabling thoughtless consumption, forever.
I don’t think there’s a hashtag for that one yet, though.