That Time Patagonia Basically Said “Don’t Buy From Us” (and Revenue Increased by 30%)

marketing Dec 14, 2021

In 2011, Patagonia ran a now-famous ad with the headline: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

It featured the image of a beautiful black fleece jacket, one of Patagonia’s bestsellers.

It’s hard to imagine what would make a company warn against purchasing its own product unless an apology was forthcoming. But Patagonia wasn’t trying to patch up a scandal or announce a recall. Instead, they were reinforcing one of the core components of their mission: to protect the planet.

Patagonia is a company that makes products designed for exploration, adventure, and recreation. In full view of what they offer to the customer — not just clothes, but the capability to enjoy the great outdoors — they recognized that making those products at the planet’s expense was not only unwise, but perhaps unethical.

In the ad, Patagonia explains that sustainable processes are key to keeping the Earth healthy for generations (and explorers) to come. Unsolicited, it lists the ecological impact of making the featured jacket: 135 liters of water used in production and 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted in transportation to the warehouse.

The ad goes on to say that the jacket is made to be extremely durable and high quality so it will last a long time — so you won’t have to buy a new one for a while. In fact, it says directly, “Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything.”

Further, the ad outlines Patagonia’s Common Threads initiative, which can be defined in five R’s that clarify the values the company shares with customers: Reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine. Repair, for example, states, “WE help you repair Patagonia gear, YOU pledge to fix what’s broken.”

The call to action, aside from “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” is to go to the company’s website and take the Common Threads pledge, committing to the final R, Reimagine: “Together we reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.”

And as though the ad were not already a rebuttal to consumer culture, Patagonia ran it in The New York Times on Black Friday. On a day when every retailer is thinking about raking in their biggest share of profit for the year, one company went out of its way to blatantly discourage purchases for the sake of its mission.

You might think this would be a missed opportunity or costly sacrifice for Patagonia. Instead, Patagonia’s revenues jumped to $543 million dollars in the next year, a 30% increase.1

Patagonia is proof that the genuine power of selling doesn’t come from discounts or gimmicks. It comes from a company’s unique mission, which is the beating heart of its business.

Values Over Tactics

Values are more powerful than tactics, but you’d never know it from searching the Internet for marketing advice. A bucket of ideas is attractive, but it can only get you so far. If you try to consume all the different marketing philosophies out there, you’ll get overwhelmed very quickly.

Entrepreneurs and creative agencies looking to sell you silver bullet tactics and “secrets” want to tell you that marketing is easy so that you’ll buy into their methodologies. (And keep buying into them, literally.)

But the truth is, marketing is full of gray areas, financial drains, and public-relations danger zones. The perception that it’s easy only exacerbates the frustration of sinking time and costs into tactics that simply don’t pan out. The uncertainty of what will work, when, and why, can become absolutely nauseating to business owners having to make critical decisions off “intuition” and missing data sets.

It’s hard enough to create a quality product. Trying to learn marketing and act the part of a salesperson can feel like being handed an instrument you’ve never played to see if you can earn spare change on a street corner. You feel silly, fake, and worried that your business will succeed or fail based on your ability to do something you’ve never practiced — and have no passion for.

But there is good news. While marketing does require careful thought and hard work (just like creating a quality product), your ability to sell products will come from focusing only on a few key principles, not dime-a-dozen tactics.

You won’t see results overnight, but if you stay on the time-tested path, you will get to where you’re going with your own two feet. Like Patagonia, your marketing will be informed by your mission. You won’t be swayed by the brands and trends that surround you.

The principles you need can be summed up in 3 M’s: mission, market, and message.

The 3 M’s of Marketing: Mission, Market, Message

M #1 - Mission. Your mission is your core set of values, why you exist, and why it matters that you exist. I believe that a mission has seven essential components. It can include more, but you need at least the seven we’ll talk about in order to create a solid foundation. Your mission answers the question, “What am I trying to do?”

M #2 - Market. Your market (specifically, your target market) is the subset of buyers whom you believe will be interested in your product. These are the potential customers who will share your values, the ones you want to create a relationship with through your marketing process. Your market answers the question, “Who am I talking to?”

M #3 - Message. Your message is the translation of your mission across different mediums, directed at the ideal potential customers within your target market. (We’ll define these customers later by creating fictional profiles of them called avatars). Your message answers the question, “What am I trying to say?”

Every business that professes to market its products must tackle these three essentials, but some do it very poorly. As a result, their ability to connect with customers is impaired. No matter what they try, their marketing doesn’t work.

However, when a company’s mission, market, and message are defined and working at full power, they act as a magnetic force to attract customers and facilitate sales. Not only that, but they help inform the decisions that you need to make about your business as it grows.

With your 3 M’s in sync, you can create powerful connections with customers, reap financial rewards, and make impactful decisions with clarity and confidence.

Exercise: Do You Know Your 3 M’s?

Are you clear on your mission, market, and message?

Make sure that the core elements of what you’re trying to do, who you’re talking to, and what you’re trying to say are all written down in one accessible place (not just in your head). 

 

This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.

 

Sources

  1. Hodge, A. (2020, January 16). Brand Authenticity: 5 Examples of Companies Making a Profit While Being Authentic. Instapage. https://instapage.com/blog/building-brand-authenticity.
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