What Brands Can Learn from REI’s Viral Black Friday Social Media Campaign

viral Black Friday social media campaignWith 81% of Americans having at least one social media profile, brands from every industry have made incorporating digital marketing into their overall marketing strategies a priority. But in the crowded field of competitors vying for consumers’ attention, many brands are searching for ways to go beyond merely existing on social media to actually getting noticed and making some noise. They set their sights (and their budgets) on achieving that holy grail of social media marketing: the viral campaign.

REI, the American outdoor retailer, has done just that. In 2015, the company turned Black Friday, traditionally one of the biggest revenue days for retailers, on its head by doing the unthinkable: closing all of its 150+ brick-and-mortar stores and halting its ecommerce capabilities for the day. Instead of working or shopping, they encouraged their employees and their following of active outdoors lovers to #OptOutside. Supported on each of their social media platforms, the campaign was designed to inspire their fans to reconnect with the outdoors during the holidays and find their next adventure.

Three years later, the brand not only continued their award-winning campaign for Black Friday 2017, they built upon its success to take it one step further. In conjunction with the promotion of #OptOutside across their social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the brand launched an experiential search engine where users could share photos and videos of their #OptOutside experience, and browse those shared by other members of their like-minded community.

viral Black Friday social media campaign

Did it work? The brand estimates that this year, their campaign inspired 1.4 million people to spend the day outdoors. Within 24 hours, the brand’s social media mentions increased by 7,000 percent. The campaign earned 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social media impressions.

Home. Run.

Lessons Any Brand Can Learn From REI’s Viral Black Friday Social Media Campaign?

1. Do Something Unexpected

In 2015, REI’s move to shutter its business on the biggest shopping day of the year was unthinkable. As the rest of the retail world fought for customers’ attention and dollars with ever-expanding shopping hours, door buster sales and online offers, REI went in the opposite direction. Their unconventional #OptOutside campaign generated positive buzz almost immediately.

How to put this to work for your brand: In the words of author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, ‘Playing it safe is very risky.’ Brands who want to get noticed in the crowded social media landscape need to think creatively to find ways to step just far enough outside their safe space to come up with well-timed campaigns worthy of their audience’s attention.

2. Know Your Audience

REI took a risk when it decided to close its doors on Black Friday, but it was a calculated one. The team was taking a gamble that their audience would align with the idea and that what the company lost in retail sales for the day, they would recoup in brand awareness and loyalty. And it paid off in spades, largely because they were able to reliably predict their customers’ reaction.

How to put this to work for your brand: Knowing who your core customers are and what is important to them the key to the success of any marketing campaign. In order to connect with your target, you need to figure out what kind of content will resonate with your audience and how best to reach them.

3. Be Authentic

By setting their unconventional Black Friday plan into action, REI showed its customer base that it didn’t just talk the talk—the brand was as genuinely committed to the active outdoor lifestyle as they were. And they were willing to take bold action to prove it. By putting skin in the game, the brand demonstrated a commitment to the core values of the company in a way that words never could.

How to put this to work for your brand: It’s critical to keep messaging and brand activity consistent in order to win over a loyal following. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever before. They seek brands that align with their own ideals and values, and will reward those that do with their loyalty. On the flip side, they are ready to turn their back on a brand that seems inconsistent or disingenuous.

4. Be Engaging

The viral success of REI’s campaign was largely due to their ability to create a concept that incited an emotional reaction in its following and inspired them to take action…and then making it easy for them to do so. By creating the unique #OptOutside hashtag, users became brand ambassadors by getting in on the fun and encouraging others to join the movement. By launching the experiential search engine fueled by user-generated content, REI gave the audience another way to get involved.

How to put this to work for your brand: You may have the best, most creative idea for a campaign, but if no one sees it, what good can it do for your brand? Make sharing and engaging a built-in feature of your campaign, and give users an incentive (intrinsic or otherwise) to do so.

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