Patagonia: Commercialization and Consumption: Social
When Patagonia released their 2011 ad campaign for Black Friday in The New York Times, it was a big shock to modern advertisement regimes. In a day where modern advertisements are all about subliminal messaging, a “sex sells” mantra and ultra-flashy production, the campaign was a simple display with a simple message: ‘Do Not Buy This Jacket’ written across a plain white background above the photo of a grey fleece jacket. Some interpretations wrote that it was all about reverse psychology; others claimed they were hoping to reach a more hip, counter-cultural market.
But according to Patagonia, the ad they ran in the New York Times was sincere. They say they wanted to address “head on” the problem with consumption during the time when consumption is at its peak. According to their blog, the ad was geared towards customers, who need to think twice before they buy, but also towards businesses, who need to make fewer things but of higher quality. The company understands that “everything we make takes something from the Earth that we can’t give back.”
Indeed, corporate responsibility includes responsible marketing. The social implications of the technique were resounding. Both old and new customers pledged towards the linked Common Threads Initiative, in which customers promise to wring the life out of their Patagonia wear by reducing consumption, repairing what breaks, recirculating what they no longer use, recycling or re-purposing what wears out, and reimagining a world where they take only what nature can replace. Another set of customers bought the jacket in mass. In fact, after the article ran, Business Week statistics showed an increase in people that buying that jacket, as well as most other Patagonia products. Maybe it was because it got the brand name out to individuals who haven’t heard of them before; maybe it was because the agenda of the modern consumer is sown far deeper than what was once thought.
The Black Friday advertisement is a clear depiction of the type of commercialization that Patagonia aims for. Since the 2011 ad they have ran more campaigns with similar slogans, such as “Better than New”, and “Worn Wear: The Stories We Wear”. Patagonia writes that it is part of their mission to inspire and implement solutions to the social and environmental crises. The Department of Sustainability within Point Loma’s physical plant decided years ago that Patagonia’s methods of dealing with consumption problems were worth the steep prices of product, so when jackets were needed for Sustainability employees, they chose to purchase from the brand. Could Sustainability have been even more consumption-conscious buy purchasing used gear, or putting PLNU patches on clothing that employees already owned? Probably. But the honest commercialization of Patagonia has been twisted by consumers into a popular social phenomenon where consumers can look the part of an ethical shopper but don’t always have to act it. Its functionality as a product is undermined by the pursuit of fashion, and as the outdoors-man/woman model becomes more popular, the company is likely to gain even more customers who don’t follow their principles.
So while a consistency of socially ethical customers is hard to reach, Patagonia says they will continue to commit to being a company that promotes building a better product, regarding quality over quantity, working fair labor practices and implement safe working conditions throughout the Patagonia supply chain.
Whether their customers follow suit is a different story.