How REI won Black Friday with its unconventional #OptOutside marketing campaign

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Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is known for sales, lines and crazy shoppers. Except at REI.

Last year recreational equipment retailer REI announced that they were closing all of their stores on Black Friday, giving employees a paid day off, and encouraging them and everyone to take the day to get outside and do something fun. They promoted it with the hashtag #OptOutside

In addition to the hashtag there was an OptOutside meme generator, encouraging people to share images and videos of their time outside. Their agency created outdoor camping kits with freeze-dried Thanksgiving leftovers that they sent to selected hiking and biking influencers. And they created an OptOutside mobile app with suggestions of what to do outside.

And the campaign was an immediate hit.

Social media intelligence firm Sysomos reported over 37,000 tweets using the #OptOutside hashtag, plus several hundred news items and other mentions. Remember: REI was getting almost all of this added attention for free.

National Parks Service tweet for REI OptOutside
Many other organizations promoted the OptOutside campaign, including the National Parks Service which used it to encourage people to use the day to come to one of their parks. State park systems and others did the same, as did some outdoor equipment manufacturers.

The OptOutside campaign was so effective that REI is doing it again this year.  If you go to their home page you find a banner that says, “REI is closing on Black Friday. #OptOutside with us.” If you click on it you go to a page with photos of people enjoying the outdoors and suggestions for what you can do.

If REI had just had another Black Friday sale, few would have noticed. By doing a 180 degree turn and going totally against the conventional, they have reaped huge rewards.