It’s Better to Piss People Off Than Play it Safe
Last Monday, Donald Trump signed an order to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah by nearly two million acres. Patagonia called him out on it, turning its website and twitter feed into a public accusation of “the largest elimination of protected land in American history”, but more importantly, inciting a debate that generated countless tweets, comments and headlines.
Not only did Patagonia show the President that brands bite back, they also set an example, proving that brands with the backbone to live their purpose every day are the ones who will find commercial success and play a meaningful role in people’s lives.
Here are five things all brands can learn from Patagonia.
1. It’s not just about purpose, it’s about purpose plus character
Having a purpose is par for the course these days, but the reality is that it rarely makes it out of the guidelines. The new frontier for brands is character. Literally, having the balls to deliver on what you say and what you stand for through your behaviour and actions. Patagonia wasn’t the only brand taking a stand against Trump’s actions last week, REI made a similar statement on its site, but the less rebellious standpoint meant it was easily overshadowed. For Patagonia, going all out made the world of difference, outshining all previous attempts to tackle the issue.
It's also important to remember that a brand can take on serious issues no matter its personality. Take a look at Cards Against Humanity’s Christmas campaign, which builds on its mission to tackle wealth inequality in America. The irreverent card game is a surprise contender in the awards for effective brand purpose, but it has successfully managed to tap into something significant, without having a personality transplant.
2. It’s far better to take a stance and risk pissing people off than play it safe
There will always be haters. Even Patagonia got some blowback from the left, but it also saw many come to its defence. It’s better to have a small base of fiercely loyal (and more valuable) fans, and a few haters, than a swathe of people who are indifferent.
We’ve seen this in our work with Adidas, where taking a stance and letting the haters bring it on led Adidas to reclaim the top spot in UK football for the first time in 40 years.
3. Your stance creates platforms for participation
Patagonia didn’t just make a statement, it started a debate. Founded on a love for the great outdoors, Patagonia’s mission is to do business while doing good for the environment, proving that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. But, what makes Patagonia different is this: actions speak louder than words. It articulates that ‘a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them’ – and participate they do. From documentaries promoting conservation to anti-consumerism campaigns like Worn Wear and ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ that encourages responsible consumption, everything they do provides a platform for their consumers to participate – creating a deeper kind of loyalty to the brand.
4. Get political
Brands have the resources, and the remit, to dig in. At a time when faith in government and public institutions is at a new low, people are clamouring for it. According to Global Strategy Group, 88% of Americans agree that corporations have the power to influence social change, and 78% agree that companies should take action to address important issues facing society. Facebook is our new election watchdog. The New York Times is one of the few remaining bulwarks against Trump, championing democracy. And Google is making inroads into mental health and depression. It’s a silver lining but as we turn to the private sector, big brands are going to be increasingly held responsible for the ills in society.
5. Be clear
There was no mistaking what Patagonia meant. You don’t always need to be “good”, it’s sometimes “good” enough to just be clear about your intent as a brand. Casper mattresses is a great example of this. The copy is never wordy, and every experience leaves you crystal clear that their purpose is about getting you a better night’s sleep.
So, if your brand needs a new year’s resolution, it should be this: Dig in.
Those that do will succeed because they have a sense of purpose and stick to their values with attitude. They’ll figure out how to do things differently. They’ll get involved in culture. They’ll engage with issues. And in return, they’ll get love.