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Unlocking the Essence of REI's Unconventional Black Friday Approach: OptOutside Movement

In a world where Black Friday sales entice millions to swarm retail stores in a chaotic shopping frenzy, one brand dared to disrupt this tradition and change the narrative. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), a prominent retailer specializing in outdoor gear and sporting equipment, embarked on an audacious mission. They chose to close their 143 stores on Black Friday, giving their 12,000 employees a day off to engage in outdoor activities. This bold move marked the inception of the #OptOutside movement, reshaping the conventional Black Friday frenzy into a celebration of nature, community, and wellbeing.


Context

Black Friday, the largest shopping holiday in the US, falls right after Thanksgiving Day, driving throngs of consumers to compete for bargains in bustling malls. However, REI chose to challenge this retail frenzy and embrace a different direction. On Black Friday 2015, the company shut down all its stores and encouraged its employees and customers to spend the day outdoors instead. This seemingly unrelated decision turned out to be the cornerstone of their unique campaign.


The REI Ethos

With the motto "a life outside is a life well lived," REI has a strong commitment to environmental protection. Each year, the company donates millions of dollars to support conservation programs, deploys volunteer teams for environmental initiatives, and fosters a sense of community among outdoor enthusiasts.


The Decline of Black Friday Craze

Research indicated a shifting consumer interest towards outdoor activities and health benefits. Alongside this trend, the enthusiasm for Black Friday shopping was waning. This presented REI with an opportunity to align their message with the evolving values of their audience.


Objectives

REI's primary goals were to elevate brand awareness and cultivate a long-term increase in customer engagement.


Strategic Approach: OptOutside

REI recognized the perfect timing to counter the chaos of Black Friday by championing a distinctive approach. They aimed to differentiate themselves from other retailers and align their values with the growing appreciation for outdoor experiences.


Their strategy revolved around leveraging the "golden" opportunity to foster community connections through outdoor activities. This approach allowed customers to internalize the brand's values and spread the campaign's message organically.


Creative Idea: #OptOutside

The campaign centered around a powerful call to action that challenged norms: "Don't go shopping on Black Friday!" REI closed their stores, urging employees and customers to spend quality time with family and friends outdoors. The hashtag #OptOutside became the campaign's rallying cry, encouraging participation and engagement.


Execution and Impact

REI forwent traditional deep-discount strategies for Black Friday. Instead, they closed their stores, ceased online orders, and gave their employees a day off for outdoor adventures. The CEO, Jerry Stritzke, sent an email to employees and published print ads declaring the closure. This announcement marked the campaign's official launch in October 2015.


The campaign gained momentum through TV commercials, with Jerry Stritzke delivering the message of the movement's uniqueness. A microsite served as the campaign's hub, offering information, location-based outdoor activity recommendations, and tools for users to customize and share their #OptOutside messages.


The Digital Wave

#OptOutside surged across social media platforms, becoming a top trend on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In the first two months, over 1.4 million people shared their outdoor plans and Black Friday adventures, indicating the campaign's resonance.


#OptOutside's Far-reaching Influence

The movement generated massive media attention for 33 consecutive days, accumulating 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social impressions. It trended on Twitter for three days and on Instagram for two days. The hashtag #OptOutside climbed to the 11th position in Brandwatch's top 15 Twitter trends of 2015.


Tangible Results

The movement's impact extended beyond social media, yielding tangible outcomes:

  • Over 1.4 million people chose outdoor activities over shopping on Black Friday.

  • More than 170 retailers expressed support and closed their doors alongside REI.

  • Numerous parks waived entry fees, inspired by the campaign.

  • Despite not directly aiming for short-term sales, REI's revenue doubled compared to the previous year.

Recognition and Awards

The campaign earned prestigious accolades, including:

  • 2 Grand Prix awards at Cannes Lions in Promo & Activation and Titanium categories.

  • 5 Gold awards in various categories, including Cyber, Direct, and Promo & Activation.

  • 3 Silver awards in Design, PR, and Mobile.

  • 1 Bronze award in Mobile.

REI's #OptOutside movement exemplifies how a brand can defy conventions and create a profound impact. By closing their doors on Black Friday and inspiring a nation to choose nature over retail, REI redefined consumer behavior, elevating values over discounts. The movement not only ignited a shift in how people perceive Black Friday but also solidified REI's position as a brand committed to community, environmental stewardship, and a life well lived.

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