While the majority of retailers were busy sending out email blasts promoting their Cyber Monday deals in the hopes of increasing sales, Patagonia took a dramatically different approach. Recipients on Patagonia’s email list received the following message, demanding that they not purchase a Patagonia jacket on Cyber Monday.
As part of their Common Threads Initiative, Patagonia hoped to encourage consumers to think about the environment and over-consumption before purchasing anything on Cyber Monday. The Common Threads program aims to reduce consumption of the environment by making all Patagonia items 100% recyclable. Consumers are encouraged to turn in their worn out Patagonia items in the store before purchasing additional merchandise. These items then get sent to refurbishment centers where they are processed and turned into new Patagonia products. The statement released by Patagonia on Cyber Monday stated:
“Cyber Monday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We’re now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet.
Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”
While protecting the environment is a very important issue and one that Patagonia fully supports, their Cyber Monday email was also a disguised marketing campaign. After all, Patagonia is a company and companies need to sell their products in order to stay viable.
First of all, by bringing awareness to their cause, Patagonia is aligning themselves with a large segment of their target consumer. We know that people have a more positive attitude about people or companies that they feel share similar values with themselves. Therefore, people who are also concerned about protecting the environment will likely have a positive attitude about Patagonia and be more likely to purchase products from them in the future. Jackets and outdoor wear sold by stores like Patagonia aren’t typically viewed as impulse Internet buys like electronics and other products. In an attempt to stand out from the barrage of Cyber Monday impulse advertising by other retailers, Patagonia used this opportunity to be noticed by making a bold statement in the hopes of boosting sales as they enter the winter and holiday season.
Patagonia’s ad campaign is actually quite clever. By telling consumer’s not to buy something, it might actually increase sales of that product. This counterintuitive phenomenon can be explained by the theory of psychological reactance. Psychological reactance is an emotional reaction to the elimination of behavioral freedoms. People like to feel like they have choices and freedom, therefore when they are told that they can’t have something, it often increases the attractiveness of that product. Telling its customers not to purchase their jacket might actually increase people’s desire to have that jacket even without their awareness.
Lastly, the design of the message clearly features the Patagonia jacket like most product advertisements would. As seen above, the image is simple – plain black font with a picture of a new vibrant blue jacket. Due to the color and size of the jacket compared to the rest of the message, your eye is first drawn to the jacket before even reading the message. If this message were solely meant to bring awareness to the Common Threads Initiative and encourage people not to consume as much on Cyber Monday, Patagonia could have used other images like the image shown below of discarded clothing that is on their website. However, they wanted to showcase their product and draw the consumer’s awareness to it. And, we know that mere exposure can create a consumer’s positive attitude about a product, which in turn leads to increased probability of the consumer purchasing that product as well.
I am not at all trying to detract from Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative or message – they are a great company pursuing a very worthy cause…and they are very clever marketers. I found this anti-purchase ad to really stand out from the crowd especially on a day like Cyber Monday when my inbox was flooded with emails from retailers pushing their products. What appears to be a bold statement against buying their products is in fact a creative marketing campaign that employs psychology to raise awareness of their cause and boost sales of their products in this time of advertising overload.