Maybe the best retail ad ever

Patagonia's home page this weekend

In the midst of the madness of black Friday, and this weekend of American consumerism run amok, come a few wise words from the outdoor retailer Patagonia.

In a full-page ad in the New York Times, the privately held company asks shoppers to think more carefully about what they purchase, and the real cost of all the things we buy.

The headline: Don’t Buy This Jacket

“We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else,” the company says.

The rest of the ad is worth reading, and thinking about, so I’ll copy the text here:

It’s Black Friday, the day in the year retail turns from red to black and starts to make real money. But Black Friday, 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.

Environmental bankruptcy, as with corporate bankruptcy, can happen very slowly, then all of a sudden. This is what we face unless we slow down, then reverse the damage. We’re running short on fresh water, topsoil, fisheries, wetlands – all our planet’s natural systems and resources that support business, and life, including our own.

The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing. Consider the R2® Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60% 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.

And this is a 60% recycled polyester jacket, knit and sewn to a high standard; it is exceptionally durable, so you won’t have to replace it as often. And when it comes to the end of its useful life we’ll take it back to recycle into a product of equal value. But, as is true of all the things we can make and you can buy, this jacket comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.

There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything. Go to patagonia.com/CommonThreads or scan the QR code below. Take the Common Threads Initiative pledge, and join us in the fifth “R,” to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.

That’s good environmental messaging. But is it good business for a company to urge people to buy less? Moreover, is there a disconnect between this ad and Patagonia’s own plans for grow, open new stores and mail out more catalogs?

Patagonia responds in a blogpost about the ad:

The test of our sincerity (or our hypocrisy) will be if everything we sell is useful, multifunctional where possible, long lasting, beautiful but not in thrall to fashion. We’re not yet entirely there. Not every product meets all these criteria. Our Common Threads Initiative will serve as a framework to advance us toward these goals.

Patagonia, to its credit, is pushing us (and its own people) to think about what sustainable consumption might look like. There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying stuff–without consumption, we’d have no jobs or economy–but our goal should be to buy stuff with the lowest possible environmental footprint, stuff that is produced and transported using renewable energy and stuff that, when it’s no longer useful or needed, can be turned into something else. Consumption, in other words, that is part of a zero-waste, zero-emissions economy.

It’s a long, long  way from here to there, but we need to start down that path down, and we  need visionary companies, as well as visionary environmentalists and politicians, to help us figure out how to get there. In an industry where lots of companies (notably Nike and REI) are thinking hard about sustainability, for obvious reasons–their business depends on the outdoors–Patagonia is leading the way.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to become a more responsible holiday shopper, check out the NRDC and its Green Gift Guide (plant a tree in Costa Rica, adopt a wolf in Yellowstone), which features some mildly amusing celebrity videos from people like Kyra Sedgwick and Tony Shalhoud on bad gifts.  Worth a look, too, is the Simplify the Holidays challenge from the invaluable Center for a New American Dream which suggests gifts of time or hand-made gifts.

In another bit of encouraging news, those Thanksgiving Day store openings that I blogged about last week [See my blogpost Thanksgiving Shopping Madness and especially the comments) have generated more than the usual backlash. Yesterday, the New York Times’ James Stewart did a terrific column about Anthony Hardwick, whose change.org petition challenged Target to give workers Thanksgiving Day off.

Then again, there was this:

At a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles, one woman seemed to take her position in line very seriously. Authorities said 20 people at a Wal-Mart store suffered minor injuries when a woman used pepper spray to gain a “competitive” shopping advantage shortly after the store opened on Thursday evening.

Ah, the spirit of the season.

Comments

  1. Wow. Patagonia shows some real courage to stand up for what they believe is the right thing for the greater collective. They just gained a new customer for life. I am sending this blog to all my friends. Great coverage of this Marc. We need more companies to stand up and do the same and have faith that the majority of consumers if given the option woud much rather do the right thing. The key is to give them the option.
    Thanks to Patagonia. Great job…Very inspiring.

  2. Ed Maibach says:

    One small anecdote to support your claim about “the best retail ad, ever”: When my wife saw the ad in the paper Friday morning, she called me into the room. We talked about the ad, the company, and the deeper meaning. And both of us came away from the conversation with a sense of belief that at least one company really does stand for something. A powerful ad indeed.

  3. Joe Starinchak says:

    This ad is just the tip of the iceberg for Patagonia. Working closely with them on multiple levels, this company defines leadership in everything it does. Truly amazing, so this ad is no surprise.

  4. I think there is something inherently wrong with buying stuff. That’s what they’re saying. Every single meaningless item that we purchase has an impact far greater than that end product from manufacturing waste up stream, to energy use, to water use. My resolution for 2012 is to purchase no new clothes and drastically reduce the other goods I buy. At a certain point the economy will have to be sacrificed for the environment, and I would choose the latter any day.

  5. The ad isn’t just great fodder for adult conversation, it also opened the doors for a conversation with our children about mindful consumption. That, and the pepper spray incident in LA amounted to a significant teachable moment over the weekend!

  6. Hi,
    Actually, Patagonia wasnt the first to come up with this. The socially and environmentally conscious fashion house, comme il faut, (disclosure: my client) ran a campaign a couple of years ago called Buy Less. You can see the campaign here :
    http://www.comme-il-faut.com/main/Calendar/fashion-calendar/BUY-LESS
    (you might need to translate the page!) or take a look at a presentation of this company’s initiatives in English including the Buy Less campaign here (slide 28)
    http://www.slideshare.net/elainecohen/0905-comme-in-faut-responsibility-in-fasion-eng

    Elaine

    • Elaine…Patagonia did a “Don’t Buy This Shirt” ad/article many years ago with a similar message. Read a bit about the history of the company and you will find that their environmental ethic is strong and consistant.

  7. The first to come up with this type of ad or not, kudos to Patagonia for having the courage to point out that even their semi-sustainable jackets waste a lot of natural resources.

    Kiva.org is offering a “recylable” gift idea this year: Kiva Cards. Sold in $25 increments, recipients of Kiva Cards use the money to make loans to an entrepreneur nearly anywhere in the world (including the US). Once the loan is repaid (typically within a year), the recipient can re-loan the money as many times as he/she wishes. These loans give the entrepreneur the means to start or expand a business, while providing the Kiva Card recipient with the gift of helping others create a better future for themselves and their families. Gifts don’t get much more thoughtful or meaningful than this.

  8. Hi — I completely agree with the positive reaction to the Patagonia ad (and the associated video on their website). They are a corporate sustainability leader and I buy Patagonia products. I love the company, but let’s not overlook the fact that the ad is great branding, because now those of us who liked it, when we really, really need a new fleece jacket or ski pants, we’ll buy them from Patagonia (and we’ll feel good about it : ).

    Nina

  9. I heard that Patagonia was donating sleeping bags and tents to “Occupiers”…

    For that reason alone they can be sure that I will never buy that jacket, or anything else from them again.

    To the rest of the world, the 99% are the 1%.

    • You reject the single most effective movement for social justice in 50 years because its participants aren’t poor enough?

      Either you’re stupid or a troll.

      I have some issues with the way the Occupy movement has gone, but there is absolutely no denying that it is having a dramatic impact on the way that inequality is seen around the world. This is an absolute necessity to improve the lives, not just of middle-class westerners, but also the poorest people on the planet. This is a conversation that would not even be happening without Occupy.

      Oppose it if you wish, but know that you’re casting your lot, deliberately or not, with those who wish to further the economics of exploitation you claim to decry.

      • +1 on Evan’s comments. How the hell did somebody with Graham’s values even make it this far in the article/comments section? He says he’ll never buy another Patagonia product “again,” which implies he’s been a customer of theirs in the past but is somehow oblivious to their Mission? Total troll (and idiot).

  10. Such a great, GREAT post. I shared it on facebook and twitter – hopefully many people will read this. :-)

    Black Friday: the demeaning of Christmas.

    • Friedman's Ghost says:

      Sarah – You should copyright/trademark your line “Black Friday: the demeaning of Christmas.”

      Good stuff.

  11. It’s truly inspiring to see companies initiate this kind of environmental and social responsibility. We are all living on one planet, we are all in the same boat, and we depend on eachother to survive. The old way of living will no longer work, we are limited by resources and our planet is quickly becoming more and more toxic to live on, it’s time we as a humanity got together to solve these problems, and reasonable, needs – only consumption is a start. The future economy will only have room for companies such as Patagonia, the quicker others realize this, the better off we and our future will be. Thanks for the great blog post.

  12. If Patagonia was donating “occupiers” with goods that is unfortunate, and they lost any goodwill the ad may have built with me. Occupy is in no way an effective movement. Occupiers are angry at a handfull of bad people that made bad decisions and they are no longer around. Entire industries of good companies, with good people are left to deal with the misguided, misinformed, occupiers. When did it become wrong to earn your way, and work hard to stake your claim in life? No one ever got to the top of any corporate ladder, to owning their own business, or bettering themselves and their family by “occupying”. The movement is aimless(aside from being completely socialist) the participants, bless their hearts, lack basic fundamental economic and financial markets understanding, and is fueled by emotion not facts. Times are tough, its easy to blame the economic center of the world and it’s ancillary businesses. It’s not a difficult concept, the movement is mislead. Occupy Capitol Hill, not free markets.

    • What free market? We don’t have a truly “free market” economy in the U.S., or anywhere for that matter. Have you not heard of lobbying? Have you not heard of subsidies and tax cuts and other forms of coercion?

      There is an inherent problem in a true free-market system too: it presumes and encourages that profit must continuously increase, with no end, meaning that to even maintain a stagnant albeit potentially high level of profit is “bad.” This implies that a business will have to always find ways of cutting costs, which means outsourcing labor to other countries (little to no regulations), and heavy reliance on fossil fuels (subsidized). It is harmful to the well-being of people, all people, and the environment. Wealth should not be judged by money.

  13. I like the ad and message.
    In my retail boutique I have approached what I buy to sell as quality goods made in Italy. Not throw away clothes made in China. We need to investigate the origin of the clothing we buy, does the price reflex the origin; shopping with a conscience and not rewarding the companies guilty producing throw away quality clothing at greedy prices.

  14. LD Backues says:

    Hi Jason:

    At the paradigmatic level there is a lot in your statement that could be unpacked. I will not do that here, since here is not the forum for such, but I simply would like to highlight your sentence, ‘No one ever got to the top of any corporate ladder, to owning their own business, or bettering themselves and their family by “occupying”.’ That is laughable – do you truly believe a statement like that convinces simply by being asserted? No one? You seem to assume that people actually ‘get to the top of the corporate ladder’, that they work their way there. Indeed, that is the myth prevalent in much of America today, but is it true? I think not. Most, in fact, do not ‘get there’, they start there (as obvious, well-known examples, think of Stella McCartney, or Paris Hilton, or James Murdoch, or many, many others – these three are NOT anomalies.) I, for one, would call that high level ‘occupying’ – they did not (completely) earn their position nor are they giving it up any time soon. By virtue of privilege, they ensconce themselves at the top of the economic and political heap (in positions of concession – and be not mistaken, economics is joined at the hip with politics), often without much real work done (compared to the hoi polloi who work very hard simply to find a job, much less keep it.) And, even in the midst of our present economic troubles these type of people seem to care not a whit about the rest who do not enjoy their perches of occupation (have a look at the article in the most recent Newsweek about this: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/11/27/the-super-rich-haven-t-reined-in-their-excesses.html.) So, in the face of this, OWS as well as actions like these from Patagonia seem to be shaking things up a bit, causing people to think and reflect on such an unjust situation. I support both.

  15. Ld,
    You raise some valid points, in particular that economics and politics are joined at the hip. I completely agree hence my comment that it should be occupy capitol hill not the free markets. In general I think some of your comments are directionally correct. The “occupiers” however are not. That being said, occupy is not protesting those individuals you mentioned. They are protesting the the financial industries and those working in it. Reviewing the occupy LA news feeds yesterday presented countless laughable examples of misguided misinformed occupy ideals. Burning dollar bills during a federal reserve march/protest was the most sadly hilarious. As you support them, maybe you can explain to them that the federal reserve is not a brick and mortor consumer bank. That the federal reserve was established by congress, thus the people, in response to the financial collapse that lead to the great depression. It was created to prevent another great depression. If occupiers or anyone else is trying indicate that our countries economic downturn is anything close to the great depression, they need to open their history books. I appreciate your response, but given the audience you appear to be in league with, I’d lighten up on the “word of the days”‘ when engaging in any educational dialogues. When I left my house this morning to go to work at 5:45 am, I thought of the “occupiers” in their shanty’s and what they would be contributing to society and their families. I couldn’t think of anything outside of the burning man festival feel of their vandal, trash ridden, tax dollar wasting, creation of some kind of, “I want somthing for nothing, and I am entitled”‘, awareness.

  16. This is great. We all need to be mindful of what we are consuming. After all, what do we really need? We do not need 99% of what is produced for consumption, including food, clothing and all the crap made in China sold at Walmart. Life is not about working hard, and buying stuff. We have been programmed to think this, but in reality we are here to enjoy, to connect with others and to care for one another. Kudos to Patagonia for creating an ad that gets people thinking and talking. Most ads are aimed at the level of intelligence of a fly. I think people are starting to become more educated consumers, and realizing that our consumption habits matter. If we all consumed only what we needed, and helped others who might need, our world would be a better place to live. Caring and connecting is what it is about.

  17. David Prosser says:

    Good points Betsy, and considering our finite natural resources situation this makes a lot of sense. And also, just from the level of pleasure, much more lasting amounts of it can be found in human interactions. But in order for this switch to really be made though we need to implement new education, which teaches us that human interactions are more worthwhile then constantly seeking material consumption. Also, to add a different aspect to this, we see many who are currently unemployed and economists predicting that this number will go up throughout the world.

    And the thing is if the world switches to moderate consumption then these people aren’t actually needed to work. And since we currently have a global society built around constant and escalating consumption, these mass unemployed could be involved in studying human nature, our interconnection, the planet, etc. (because we can see there are a number of global crises in the world today besides unemployment and resource management).

    And this is how they could contribute to society, by studying in order to upgrade the values of society. And them working this way would not involve them making more superfluous things. Also, they would not be just receiving a handout for being unemployed but would be providing a pivotal role by being involved in the re-education of society.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Marc Gunther describes in his blog posting, this is one of the first serious attempts by a consumer goods company to get its customers to […]

  2. […] out Marc Gunther’s excellent post on Patagonia’s black Friday ad–maybe the best retail ad ever.  The video supporting […]

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