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With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, you could be forgiven for believing that Christmas has become all about commerce.

In 2015, REI bucked this trend by introducing the #OptOutside campaign.

The idea was simple: while other retailers obsessed over making sales, REI closed its doors on Black Friday, giving the entire staff a paid day off. The ethos for the outdoor retailer was to not only encourage their own employees to get outside, but to inspire others to join in the movement.

REI's optoutside campaign

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Two initial videos were produced. The first features images of forests and mountains overlaid with chatter about Black Friday, which becomes increasingly loud before going radio silent as the campaign’s hashtag is displayed. In the second video, the company CEO explains the project from a work desk on a mountain.

Alongside the videos, active participation was encouraged with the hashtag through which participants were invited to share media from their outdoor adventures. Camping kits were put together and sent to leaders in the hiking and outdoor community, while partnership with a geo-mapping service produced a site that inexperienced hikers could use to find appropriate outdoor locations.

The campaign is a brilliant display of empathy and timing.

As an outdoor store, REI took the view that their typical customers would not want to spend hours inside fighting crowds to shop. They were also acutely aware of their own employees’ preferences not to work on Black Friday.

As such, REI created a project that its own consumers would value, strengthening their customer base with a counterintuitive message.

As for timing, all elements of the project were prepared for an October launch in The New York Times, alongside the television ads and hashtag site. This was intentionally designed for maximum exposure, occurring less than two months prior to Black Friday.

The campaign is an example of a retailer who knows their customers, inviting them to partake in their favorite outdoor activities instead of encouraging them to shop. Its participatory nature further engages consumers directly with the campaign. Within weeks, it was grabbing big headlines. Since launching, over 150 retailers and parks have since joined forces with #OptOutside.

Moreover, the campaign won the prestigious Grand Prix prize at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and is set to become yet another annual tradition over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Invest in Your Principles

REI’s #OptOutside campaign is super bold yet perfectly aligned with the REI brand.

On Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, REI closes all of their stores, pays their employees for a full day of work, and encourages their customers to spend the day outside.

I love that REI is so deeply invested in its brand that it’s willing to risk Black Friday revenue to strengthen it.

– Eric Keating, VP of Marketing, Zaius

Holiday Marketing Takeaway

Buck the trend entirely – if everybody else is heading in one direction, go the other way.

Want more holiday marketing advice from small-to-mid-size businesses like yours? Check out the trends and tips awarding holiday success to 1,018 BigCommerce businesses.

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Table of Contents

Intro150 Years of the Best Holiday Campaigns
Chapter 1 The Genesis of Holiday Window Displays
Chapter 2 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Brings Spectacle to the Season
Chapter 3 How Coca-Cola Invented The Father of Christmas (Or did they?)
Chapter 4 Budweiser Celebrates the End to Prohibition
Chapter 5 Montgomery Ward Employee Invents Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Chapter 6 Campbell’s Soup Speaks to the ’50s Housewife
Chapter 7 Mr. Potato Head Becomes First Toy Ever Televised
Chapter 8 NORAD Tracks Santa’s Journey Around the World
Chapter 9 Norelco Popularizes Stop-Motion Animation
Chapter 10 Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas? Why You’ll Eat KFC in Japan
Chapter 11 Folgers Advertises the Intangible
Chapter 12 Hershey’s Holiday Bells Defy an Ad Agency
Chapter 13 Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears Humanize Global Warming
Chapter 14 Coca-Cola’s Christmas Fleet Brings Truckloads of Cheer
Chapter 15 M&M’s Stumble Upon Santa –– No One is Left Standing
Chapter 16 Starbucks Red Cups Spark Consumer Salivating (and Controversy)
Chapter 17 Target Keeps it Simple with Their Black Friday Catalog Focuses on Price
Chapter 18 Pampers Silent Night Raises $40 Million for Charity
Chapter 19 Give a Garmin Hits on Travel, Humor and Holiday Stress
Chapter 20 John Lewis Focuses on Storytelling Over Brand
Chapter 21 Macy’s Believe Campaign Raises $10 Million, Involves Schools
Chapter 22 American Express Small Business Saturday Supports Local
Chapter 23 Apple Misunderstood Campaign Makes Technology and Family a Priority
Chapter 24 REI’s #OptOutside Campaign Bucks Tradition