REI’s Black Friday #OptOutside campaign Monday won the Promo & Activation Grand Prix and a Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions festival, one of the top honors in the communications business.
REI partnered with Venables Bell & Partners, Edelman and Spark on #OptOutside, which also won the Best of Show award at The One Show creative summit in New York last month for the campaign and snagged the ANDY’s “Bravery Award” in April.
According to Ad Week, the competition in the Grand Prix category was especially tough this year, with REI going against DB Breweries' "Brewtroleum" campaign that saw the brewery create a clean-burning biofuel from leftover yeast.
Last year, REI closed on Black Friday and launched a social media campaign to encourage employees and customers alike to spend the day outdoors instead. The idea struck a chord with many in an era when many retailers move in the opposition direction, opening on Thanksgiving Day to launch the holiday season. Now REI is racking up a series of advertising awards for the new message it created.
“Everyone at the Co-op is thrilled and grateful for the recognition #OptOutside is receiving," REI chief creative officer Ben Steele told Retail Dive in an email. "We are blown away by the ongoing impact. Huge congratulations and thanks to our partners at VBP, Edelman and Spark for partnering with the incredible team at REI to share our values as a co-op and inspire people to live life outdoors.”
Cannes Lions jury President, Rob Reilly, global creative chairman of McCann Worldgroup, called the REI Black Friday move the “bravest idea of the decade."
"It's about a brand living its authentic truth,” he said in a statement. “A brand that places more value in its customers than short term profit and operates with conviction. It didn't impact culture, but exploded it.”
At first, not even REI president/CEO Jerry Stritzke was sold on the idea of shuttering on Black Friday, widely seen as the most important sales day in retail, but the campaign proved to be an attention-getting success that didn’t really hurt much at all.
In fact, the decision is now widely seen as a stroke of genius. The marketing campaign, which saw REI close its physical stores and give employees Black Friday off with pay, saw more than 1.4 million hits on social media, with more than 175 organizations joining in and encouraging people to spend Black Friday outside. The retailer saw web sales spike 26% during the Black Friday holiday weekend.
In March, REI reported a whopping 9.3% increase in sales in 2015. Same-store sales grew 7%, year over year, and web sales grew 23%. The growth was mainly driven by new co-op membership sign ups and online sales. Membership grew by more than 1 million members last year, a record growth, reaching a total of more than 6 million members.
Unlike other retailers, though, REI didn’t have that much to lose in closing on the retail holiday. REI customers, generally speaking, aren’t likely to participate in a frenzy over hiking boots or even kayaks on Black Friday, the way many famously will at Wal-Mart for a big-screen HDTV. Still, making a point of opting out was a marketing coup that helped anyone participating—its customers, employees, and marketers—feel the kind of superiority that can only come from the zen of hiking rather than walking a mall.