Last year, REI decided to, instead of opening their doors to thousands of customers on Black Friday, close all their stores and start a campaign they called #OptOutside. What is #OptOutside? Why is it important? Why should we all be participating in this?
According to The Inspiration Room, REI made the decision to close its 143 stores on Black Friday of 2015. Their platform? To get people outside, outdoors, away from the materialistic needs and wants that we've grown so accustomed to knowing. CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote a letter regarding this decision last year, stating the following:
"As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money. We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors."
Their website also closes down on Black Friday, only allowing those interested in hiking trails and other outdoor activities to find places where they can happen. They even went as far to provide #OptOustide supply kits, containing things like freeze-dried turkey, stuffing and apple crisp for those who decided to go out and explore the world around us.
So, why is this hashtag so important? Why do we care about it? Creative director Lee Einhorn explained in the best way possible:
"It stopped being about closing the stores and became about getting people to go outside."
It wasn't just about letting people know to go outside — it made it about individual choices and feeling proactive in going outside rather than spending the day indoors, not just on Black Friday but on any other day of the week. It's about knowing what's out there in our world and feeling comfortable, not surrounded by the materials we've grown close to as a hand-on technology-based generation.
The CEO Jerry Stritzke served as a chairman for the #OptOutside campaign. Why is this important? Because even when working on the campaign above, he often would get distracted by the outdoors himself. REI's CCO,Ben Steele stated that even though the ad was meant to get done in one take, "He kept wandering off, looking to find a peak instead of doing another take." Even their own boss wanted to opt outside instead of working. When something like that takes place, the campaign is just reinforced. Because of campaigns and ads like this one, over 1.4 million people chose to #OptOutside with REI and its employees.
But, let's not just focus on REI. What about the effect it had on the rest of the world and the marketing niche that we survive in today? This year, more than 275 national and local organizations have chosen to team up with REI in the movement to close their doors on Black Friday. State and National parks have decided to open their doors for free; corporate partners like Subaru, Google and Meetup will be heading to shelters to take pets out for a walk in the world around us; shuttles in big cities will be take pets and their owners away from the chaos for a day and into the wilderness, the list goes on. After one year, this #OptOutside movement is still going strong.
Not only does REI pay its 12,000 employees on Black Friday, but they're making a difference in the world around us. Just starting in 2015, they've begun an anti-commercialism movement, allowing more people to head outside rather than spending all of their time indoors. CCO Ben Steele explained that although yes, this was a marketing campaign in order to create long-term branding for REI, there was much more to it than just getting customers more interested in the brand.
"#OptOutside was about sharing the idea that life is richer, more connected and complete outdoors."
So, why not just have Black Friday this year if they did it last year? The values of REI haven't changed; they didn't create this campaign to make money, they made it to reinforce the values that REI was built upon. Not only does continuing the campaign reinforce REI's culture with employers and the message that resonates with the core customer base, it also puts a premium on experiences that a lot of people don't get to have due to their daily lives and activities, such as camping, skiing, hiking, etc. Not only that, but their ranking as one of the best companies to work for went up by 32 points from 2015 to now, ranking 26th. Their employers even get two annual "Yay Days," which are paid-time-off days where they can go outside and use the gear they sell to go on adventures, the same ones for the #OptOutside movement.
As college students, this movement is about getting away from the midterms, the finals, the schoolwork and other activities to pursue the outdoors. It's about finding something out in the world that you may have never seen before. It's about choosing to be outside rather than being cramped in a dorm, in your actual room — inside — in order to feel connected with the world around us. Will you #OptOutside this Black Friday?