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Redux: ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’

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The “Big Idea” is marketing’s latest big idea. The Big Idea is a marketing campaign developed around creative insights that are so awesome, so crazy as to cause massive disruption. They are designed to have an opinion and take risks. They are designed to get massive attention as a result.

Patagonia embraced the Big Idea strategy with its recent “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, which promoted its Common Threads Initiative to reduce consumers’ environmental footprint. On Black Friday, November 25th this year, the biggest shopping day on the American consumer calendar, when billions of dollars were being spent encouraging people to buy more, more, more! Patagonia spent probably close to $100,000 dollars to encourage people to not buy anything at all.

In the Times ad, and on a pledge page online, Patagonia wrote that it “wants to be in business for a good long time” and hopes to “leave a world inhabitable for our kids.” Because of this, the company said it was attempting to “do the opposite of every other business today [Black Friday]. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”

The company that has said it uses advertising as a last resort advertised in the biggest way possible with the purchase of a full-page ad in Black Friday’s New York Times. This was accompanied by an op-editorial in the Los Angeles Times and an email newsletter campaign. Patagonia backed-up its campaign by closing its physical stores on Black Friday and shutting down its online store on Cyber Monday (correction: not having anything on sale for Black Friday or Cyber Monday).

Patagonia ad as seen in the New York Times

The result had ramifications far beyond the circulations of the ad in the Times. Both AdWeek and AdAge called it out for “ad of the day,” more than 5,000 people mentioned it on Twitter, there were hundreds of shares and comments on Facebook, and a spirited debate ensued on Patagonia’s blog. A wave of coverage in traditional and new media channels came next. Now, there are imitators of the ad format popping up online.

Looking back now almost two weeks out, did the campaign work? What do you think? Love it or hate it, the campaign added a new voice to the holiday shopping conversation in one bold, audacious, and opinionated move. The Big Idea campaign again cemented Patagonia’s commitment to doing business differently. In reality, the effort most likely did not impact the masses. Record sales were still recorded this year on November 25th. But Patagonia did introduce the idea of conscious consumption into a larger dialogue. Maybe that alone will take hold and have some effect on Black Fridays of the future and for some time to come.

—Mike Geraci is founder of Freerange Media in Jackson, Wyo. A version of this article ran on Geraci’s Tumblr blog this week.

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