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Patagonia Goes Anti-Cyber Monday to Drive Sales

November 30, 2011

The results are in and Cyber Monday was the biggest day in e-tail history with sales up 22 percent over last year to bring total revenues to $1.25 billion, according to comScore. Pretty heady stuff, but Patagonia wanted no part of it.

The sportswear outdoor apparel manufacturer and retailer launched its "Don't Buy This Jacket" ad campaign asking consumers to refrain from shopping on Monday.

According to Patagonia, Cyber Monday is a manifestation of a "culture of consumption" that "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."

The jacket in question, Patagonia's R2, is one of its best sellers. According to the company, making the jacket requires "135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60 percent recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds its weight in waste."

Patagonia is asking customers to join it in taking the Common Threads pledge (Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine) designed to reduce individuals' environmental footprint.

"We can't solve the environmental problem on our own," Christina Speed, Patagonia's marketing director, told International Business Times. "We are a business. We want to grow. The awareness level of what everything really costs is really our goal."

A request made to Patagonia by RetailWire asking for a statement on the percentage increase in its Cyber Monday sales for this year versus last was not returned at the time this article was posted.

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Question: What is your reaction to Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" ad campaign? Will the campaign, if widely received, result in more, not fewer, sales?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much will the 'Don't Buy This Jacket' ad campaign affect customers' opinions about Patagonia?


While it may be sincere, it does smack of we want it both ways. Don't buy this jacket -- our best-seller.

Possibly their target market embraces this as the macaroni and cheese comfort food of advertising. But it does smack of insincerity.

At least AMEX had the transparency to say, "We want you to buy" on SMS.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

If they really wanted customers not to buy their products, they could always take their website down and contractually make their retail partners pull their products from their digital shelves on that day. Of course they didn't do that because well...that wasn't the point, was it? The point was to take the moral high-ground and get some free publicity so a million well-meaning customers would flock to stores and buy Patagonia products. It's hard not to be cynical when you see something like this. I normally welcome conservation efforts on the part of big corporations but in my mind, this is all talk and no action.

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

Nice advertising gimmick, but I don't get it. Last I looked Patagonia was in the business of making clothes to sell at retail. I understand how the gimmick draws attention to the brand, but if they are so concerned about the environmental footprint of this jacket, why continue to manufacturer it? There's a very mixed message here.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I love it!

Now here is a customer that really understands its customers or, at the very least, understands how its customers want to think of themselves.

I've gotten to the point that I want to enter a coma on Thanksgiving and emerge five days later when all this mindless consumption madness subsides.

Since when is it good for a nation whose citizens, in many cases, are overspending and running up bills they can't afford to promoted buying for the sake of buying, especially when it results in attacks on retail clerks, security personnel and other shoppers?

Come on -- Patagonia may be running the ad as part of a larger marketing strategy, (I'm sure it increased sales among those who ignored the message but wanted to be "cool" like the messenger) but the point is well taken.

Whatever happened to the idea of doing good rather than buying good?

Carbon footprint aside for a moment, as a society we've let the holiday period get out of hand.

Maybe it's time to start looking at the real cost of believing that excessive shopping is important to a society where homelessness is increasing; children and the elderly go to bed hungry; educational levels are collapsing faster than the infrastructure; and depression is at an all time high.

Maybe it's not just that coat we don't need.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

It is certainly commendable to stand on principle but it may not be wise. While the key message of sustainability may appeal to some, it is unlikely to dissuade shoppers looking for deals to fill their Christmas stockings. It may cause them to admire Patagonia but at what cost?

Raymond D. Jones, Managing Director, Dechert-Hampe & Co.

I'm a fan of the campaign only to the small extent that it got noticed and drew attention to Patagonia. However, I would not advise that they repeat this nonsense because it also makes the retailer appear to be antiquated.

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

The statement appears consistent with the company's philosophy. Think about the environmental implications before you buy this jacket. That approach is certainly distinctive compared to the rest of the ads for Cyber Monday.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

As Arte Johnson's character used to say on Laugh-In, "Interesting, but Shtupid."

So their strategy is to get their customers to buy less of their product. They should be careful what they wish for.

Bill Emerson, President, Emerson Advisors

It's called positioning and brand attitude. Be distinguished and stand for something. Don't be a lemming. I love it.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

A better tack would be to create products that are more responsible and tout how much they saved in resources if that's what they want to do. Not by saying we wasted such and such by making this, so don't buy it. Make it a selling feature, not a confirmation that companies are environmentally irresponsible. We should already have a pretty good guess that consumerism hurts the earth. It just was counterintuitive to me.


Reminds me of the guy who, at our local farmer's market, has a sign over his beef, lamb and goat offerings: "From Animals Raised with Love." Come on, Patagonia! If the jacket is so environmentally unfriendly, why do you sell it in the first place? And imagine what would people be saying if, for instance, Walmart ran this ad! Instead of praise from some quarters, there'd be venom from all.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

As often is the case, Mr. Mathews gets it right, both relating to Patagonia's intent, and the values and outlook of its core customers. I am actually becoming more cynical about "panelists and pundits" that are so cynical themselves that they can't possibly see the sincerity of doing good, by doing good things....

Mark Baum, SVP & CCO, Food Marketing Institute

Editor's note: Patagonia's position on the jacket was that it was much more ecologically friendly than many other similar products and even as such has an environmental cost associated with it.

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George Anderson, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher, RetailWire LLC

This ad by Patagonia reminds me a little bit of Abbie Hoffman's infamous 1970 manifesto, Steal This Book, mainly because of its self-referential irony.

Sometimes a great headline does not precede a great story.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

George, that's a key piece of information that a lot of us cynical pundits didn't know when we commented.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Counter-intuitive marketing tag lines are almost always interesting, but not as frequently smart or successful. In this case, given the psychographic profile of the Patagonia shopper, it likely will bring in more long-term sales and loyalty, providing their shopper is prone to feel guilty about conspicuous consumption.

I, on the other hand, being a shameless consumer and willing participant in driving the already languishing U.S. GDP, would oblige Patagonia and just go to Eddiebauer.com!

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

Be controversial and get noticed. Get free press by informing and poking at attitudes relative to ecological sensitivities or lack thereof, and get noticed. Patagonia and its founder are as smart as a fox. The alternative is to face the blustery northwest wind off Lake Michigan without the jacket. I think I'm going online now to show my support!

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

We're not talking about promoting Tide here, or marketing to a cash strapped consumer -- though I know many Patagonia loyalists who are not in the "1%."

Patagonia customers will get this without a doubt -- I know because I am one. I read the catalog when it comes in the mail because of the great content. And then I recycle it of course. We own a few Patagonia coats that are several years old and still look like I bought them last year. The premium paid was well worth it in terms of the length of ownership.

It is good to be a private company because you can make a sound environmental point like this and not get trashed by the Street. They can be very focused on doing what they think is right. The cynical call it a marketing miscue. Those of us who know them will understand they are making a point to think about your purchase for more than a "this moment and me" vantage point. The target customer is not choosing between a $149 Patagonia R2 fleece and a much cheaper one at Kohl's or even L.L.Bean. They are choosing between it and a similar product at a similar price from North Face or Cloudveil. What do you think their choice will be?

And along the way they may open some eyes to the huge amount of resources that go into the clothing we buy, wear, (and consume). The amount of water that goes into a pair of nicely finished, lived-in looking jeans is astounding. They won't lose a single customer, they will likely gain a few more, and of course they will steal share in their segment. Net result will be good business and resources saved.

Charles Billups, Dir New Product Development, In-Store Marketing Institute

I'm gonna chime in for Patagonia here. What they're saying is that even buying "green" products is still consumption that creates waste. But since we must all wear clothes, better to buy green (Patagonia) than something else. Ultimately the brand test to me is, do they put their money where their mouth is, or is this a one-time publicity stunt? Patagonia puts its money where its mouth is. They've done more than most companies to expose the total costs of products. And that's just what they're doing in this campaign.

Tracey Croughwell, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Evofem

I think they are brilliant. What a wonderful way to reinforce their brand values -- environmentally responsible even to the point of placing that value above overtly asking for more revenue.

For Patagonia, and a select few other brands, values are so intrinsically tied to the brand proposition that such a message comes off as authentic, rather than self-serving.

As their brand increases in authenticity, the company will grow in sales, since their consumer psychographic craves genuine values.

Well done.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

My reaction? I'm a little confused, to be frank. I think Patagonia is sincere when they decree their respect for the environment, and distaste for consumption. But the messaging in this campaign is unclear: do I buy the jacket, do I not buy the jacket? Why is Patagonia making a jacket that's so "un-green" in the first place if they're so pro-environment.

Of course, as with any marketing campaign, if it garners attention to the brand, there is at the very least that benefit of visibility. I think this campaign is creatively, out-of-the-box, which is always good. But Patagonia hasn't done a great job of sending a clear message.

And as marketers, we know that you can have a great idea, but if you don't activate it properly and see it through to the end, it'll just backfire. Sorry Patagonia! We still love your stuff!

Ronnie Perchik, Founder/CEO, PromoAid

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