REI's Black Friday Marketing is Dishonest

I cut the cable and satellite TV cord about five years ago. No, I’m not about to get on a ‘TV is a mind-rotting devil’ rant, because it’s not. TV is great, especially if you study the craft of telling a story.

I cut the cord for three inter-related reasons:

- Choice. I get to choose what I watch and do it consciously instead of flopping on the couch and allowing myself to get fed by the paychecks of people whose job it is to ensure I spend time paying attention to them.

- Decision. I can more easily decide what to watch based on the quality, writers, and content instead of what happens to be on.

 -Marketing. I am subject to less of this. I embrace honest marketing for things that will make my life better, but there’s not a lot of this out there.

The last one is probably the most important.

Marketing is ridiculously hard to escape. Marketers have found new ways to make content creators beholden to them; product placement in shows has turned into entire sub-plots revolving around a sponsored product.

But even the subscription networks have been creeping up their moves to gain ad revenue.

Hulu has slowly been increasing their ad amounts and length and now, if you already pay for their service, you have to shell out more to not see the ads.

Hulu even asks us to ‘choose’ the ad we want to see now. Ads are considered supplements to entertainment. And we accept it, because we are very, very used to being marketed to. We even give awards to ads. Note that Hulu and the advertiser providing us with this choice has nothing to do with giving us an option for content, but is just a way to ensure we see a message in different ways, and to collect data on what resonates with us. The marketing content is the same, the delivery is different. Easy win for them to ensure several demographics are targeted at once.

I’ll probably pony up for ad-free Hulu, but I haven’t yet.

But, while watching Hulu, I caught the new REI ads. If you haven’t seen these, then the short of it is REI is running a campaign about how they’re closing for Black Friday and how they’re encouraging people to go outside.

These ads set my blood aflame. Seriously, I have 3rd degree burns on my arteries now.

I’ve also seen people on various news feeds (I think we’re past the honest notion of ‘social networks’, they’re all just news and marketing feeds - but I digress), saying how wonderful REI is for doing this.

I want to say people are idiots, but we’re not, we’re just doing what REI wants us to do. So let’s spell out what REI is doing just to be a little bit more aware of their intent. WARNING: Bullet-points and words-in-caps (as in capital letters, not chapeaus) lie ahead.

- REI has spent a great deal of money to market that they’re closed on Black Friday. One can argue that I don't have the facts or figures, but... duh.

- REI is encouraging people to use a hashtag to promote the fact that REI is closed on Black Friday.

- REI’s two main messaging points are that people should go outside and their employees should have the day off.

Look, yeah, I don’t disagree with the basic message: People should go outside. And people should have the day off.

I do disagree with REI’s manipulative marketing campaign, though, and object to the fact that they are treating this as a movement instead of a cold and calculated business decision.

They have a website encouraging people to share their hashtag and ‘tell the world’. ( Related: REI: The world does not embrace Black Friday. The US does. I know, common mistake for Americans to confuse their culture with the world’s, but stick with me here.)

(Also related: They encourage their website visitors to ‘Explore the Outdoors’ from your computer. Let that sink in for a moment.)

REI sells outdoor and sports gear. Their ENTIRE business is based on people GOING OUTSIDE. No shit they want you to go outside! It moves you further up the chain in their potential customer base.

And if you go outside on Black Friday - a day where the "world" chooses to shop - you get to feel SUPERIOR to others! You can TELL THE WORLD that YOU are GOING OUTSIDE instead of SHOPPING.

Then, you’ll feel really great about yourself and REI, because they were ‘brave’ enough to stand against a corporate and consumer tradition.

Outdoorsy types are not who REI is targeting here. They're already converted customers. They're targeting the guilt-driven folks who believe they should venture outside because, well, look around you - our worth as humans is what's being marketed to us.

Now, when you - you non-tough-mudding non-hiking haven't ridden your bike in three years miscreant - GO OUTSIDE, where are you going to get all the essential gear you need? REI.

As you click on their website and ‘Explore the Outdoors’ from your computer, what store is just one click away for all of your impulsive self-improvement outdoor merchandise needs? What's the first store that comes to mind?: REI.

Where are we likely to go for our Christmas shopping, because their ‘bold’ ‘customer and employee-friendly’ ethos is now imprinted in our collective pea-brains?: REI.

There is no benevolence in this. REI has played on your guilt, and spent a lot of money to make sure you’re thinking of the fact that they’re giving their employees the day off in the name of going outside. They’ve spent a lot of money to make sure you know just where to buy outdoor gear as you, now armed with justified self-righteousness, move forward with going outside.

They’ve spent a lot of money to manipulate you.

They also know that most people in the USA just shop online these days. So why not give their employees the day off? Their systems can handle it. Plus, they're a co-op.

So, fuck REI. Fuck them for manipulative, dishonest intent in their marketing.

Fuck Black Friday too. But that’s another matter.