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A big theme at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was the increasing influence and effectiveness of a brand’s purpose. A campaign which perfectly demonstrated the power of using your ‘purpose’ to guide decisions and thinking was from outdoor retailer REI.

Their purpose, and reason they exist is to get people outside so on Black Friday last year they decided to turn the day on its head by closing its doors and encourage consumers and its own employees to embrace the outdoors. It gave each of its 12,000 employees a paid day off and even suspended e-commerce and instead created a helpful online guide to hiking trails and other outdoor activities around the U.S. http://optoutside.rei.com

The decision was highly praised and the impact it had on the brand was incredible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMsxrJeJ8lU

The movement quickly spread:

  • Generating 6.7 billion media impressions

  • Got more than 1.4 million people to spend the day outdoors.

  • More than 150 other companies joined REI to close their doors on Black Friday.

  • Hundreds of state parks opened up for free to encourage people to enjoy natural areas.

  • And its consumers celebrated the brand’s bold move against the shop-til-you-drop day. 

REI's decision reflected empathy and understanding for its customers, who have zero desire to stand in line for the best deal on a day where they can be outside enjoying the great outdoors. As consumers become more skilled at using technology to manage their many brand relationships, they will weed out or ignore companies that fail to sufficiently understand them and their need and desires. We are now empowered, entrepreneurial and enabled and seek companies who have the same values as us.

REI were transparent, meaningful and showed they were people too, consumers want to feel that there are actual human beings at companies who understand them. By being purpose-led, REI resonated with its customers and employees and made them want to be part of something bigger and more important which, more businesses are starting to see has a direct effect on the bottom line.

"Almost eight decades later, when we really act as a brand as truly as we can to those core instincts of who we were from day one, I think it resonates… I think every organization and brand has their truth and their purpose can be hard to find, it takes courage to find it, but I think you have to be willing to take that journey. At the same time, do the thing that's especially hard for us as organizations, to say not what I want from people, but what's a truly relevant way of connecting with people. Where do you as an individual and a community, and us as a brand or community, find a point of intersection? It's hard work, but it's important work we have to do as an organization, as storytellers, as people who want to help brands connect with people.” REI chief creative officer Ben Steele

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