Direct > Campaign


VENABLES BELL & PARTNERS, San Francisco / REI / 2016


Gold Cannes Lions
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Instead of offering discounts to lure shoppers inside on Black Friday, REI announced that they would be doing something unprecedented: shutting all 143 of their stores, ceasing to process orders on their website and paying 12,000 employees to spend the day outside. Employees, members and the public were encouraged to use this day to reconnect with the outdoors and each other. We created an integrated campaign to invite the public outside with us, building a movement around the hashtag #OptOutside.


Employees and members were first told the news by REI’s CEO. Then an integrated campaign spread the #OptOutside movement across social, PR, TV, print, out of home and influencer outreach. Supporters were given a simple call to action: #OptOutside.

The #OptOutside digital experience acted as the hub for the entire campaign. This mobile-first site included information about the closure, a trail-finder tool to help those new to the outdoors find nearby places to go on Black Friday, a live-streaming gallery offering inspiration from those already on the trail, and a custom meme creator to let users share personalized images across their social network stating their Black Friday intentions. These memes helped the #OptOutside movement grow exponentially, as more and more social media users decided to take a pass on Black Friday and spend the day outdoors.


#OptOutside became a widespread cultural movement. 1.4 million people chose to spend Black Friday outside with REI. Over 170 organizations showed support for REI with some even closing their doors in solidarity. Hundreds of parks opened their gates for free.

The campaign earned 33 straight days of media coverage with 3,423 placements leading to 6.7 billion media impressions.

#OptOutside generated 1.2 billion social impressions, becoming a trending topic on Twitter for three separate days and Instagram for two separate days. #OptOutside was #11 of Brandwatch’s top 15 Twitter trends of 2015. The hashtag entered the larger social vernacular - six months later, it was still being used thousands of times per day.

While #OptOutside was designed for long-term community engagement, not to drive short-term sales, REI revenues were up double digits year over year (bucking industry trends). Applications to work at REI were up 92% in Q4 2015.


REI’s #OptOutside movement centered on an unprecedented call to action: Don’t go shopping on Black Friday, head outside with REI and its employees instead. Communications drove participants to signal their support for REI’s closure by using #OptOutside, and then actually head outside on November 27. Over 1.4 million people chose to do just that.


Research confirmed that interest in the outdoors was up and the health benefits of spending more time outside was gaining traction. Tangentially, enthusiasm for Black Friday shopping was decreasing. This signaled that the time was right for REI to take a stand against the chaos of Black Friday. REI had the opportunity to leverage this moment to build and connect communities around the outdoors, helping people understand and share its unique purpose and values.

The people-first strategy meant using a cross-channel approach to unite employees, co-op members, outdoor enthusiasts, the outdoor industry and non-profit partners to generate a national conversation about the benefits of a life outdoors while crafting inspiring content to invite people to #OptOutside.

All marketing would be given a direct call to action, asking people to #OptOutside with REI.


Outdoor retailer REI believes that a life outside is a life well lived. Black Friday, America’s biggest shopping day, stood in stark contrast to this belief. Held the day after Thanksgiving, this holiday had come to represent shoppers leaving their families to go buy things, spending days lining up at stores, or even fighting one another amongst the aisles.

That’s why on Black Friday 2015, REI took an unprecedented stand. The co-op closed all 143 of their stores and invited the entire country to spend the day differently - by heading outside.

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