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Patagonia Wants You To Buy Less From Them

12/11/2012

patagoniaImagine the meeting of the fast-talking marketing leader with Patagonia’s founder Yvonne Chouinard.

The marketer opens by saying all the usual stuff, like “this is going to be big”, “this will put our brand on the map” and “this has never been done before”. Chouinard nods having heard this kind of crap before.

Then the marketer says something that catches Chouinard’s attention, “the goal of our new marketing initiative is to encourage people to buy less product from us”. Wait a sec! Less stuff? That’s anti-consumerism, financial suicide and possibly un-American!

Patagonia’s holiday campaign follows last year’s groundbreaking advertising strategy featuring an ad in the New York Times on Black Friday saying “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” That’s right – an ad discouraging sales on the biggest shopping day of the year.

The apparel company, last month launched an initiative encouraging their customers to reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle their clothing and equipment. Their ad even features the line: “Reduce what you buy,” in bold caps, much like something out of an anti-capitalism rally.

But like any great campaign, their message the past two years is tied to the brand’s promise. Environmentalism is at the core of Patagonia, but to specifically discourage sales is an unusual maneuver since Patagonia is not a non-profit organization. It’s an exceptionally profitable manufacturer and retailer generating $400 million in revenue each year. Patagonia makes some of the best, and most expensive outdoor gear in the world, but the company’s mission is bigger than simply maximizing profit. The mission is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

So the marketer gets the go-ahead and off they charge…trying to sell less. Clearly Patagonia’s approach appeals to a specific customer group and that’s what’s driving much of their growth now. But does the message appeal to a broader audience? One that will sustain Patagonia for years to come? It’s next to impossible to say right now.

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote here that the Common Threads Ad Was Uncommonly Dumb. I may have been proven wrong…but I stand by my position of last year.

I for one hope this whole reduce, reuse, repair concept doesn’t hurt the likes of Goodwill and Salvation Army who count on used apparel sales as the largest source of cash generation for their charitable organizations.

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