My love for the Force of Nature campaign and REI in general has only grown exponentially as I learn more about marketing and why brands do what they do. As I pursue my master’s degree, I want to share insights and research on the blog. I’m writing more than ever this year, so why not expose it for a (small) crowd? The post content was edited and adopted to fit this blog.
Two years ago, there were roughly 144 million Americans that participated in an outdoor activity. However, when The Outdoor Foundation’s 2017 Outdoor Participation Report was published, it displayed a grim statistic: female participation rates dropped year-over-year in ages ranging from 6 to 24. This is a wide age range and quite frightening for the outdoor industry. Young women will have more opportunities to get outside in this age range, where taking risks and falling in love with a new activity, is important to the industry.
“We’re now seeing fewer people skiing as adults because they weren’t exposed to it as kids. When I ask my [ski and snowboard] instructors at staff orientation how many learned to ski on class trips, more than half put up their hands” (Stuart, 2018).
And so, another segment for REI was born: The Female Outdoor Enthusiast.
Outdoor adventure is an extremely popular theme within social blogs and has exploded in the past several years with personal branding on Instagram. Paired with the heightened attention from media-focused social issues, an emphasis on female empowerment that started in 2017 has carried far and wide. The strategies that REI employed in the spring of last year which launched the Force of Nature campaign are numerous and target a select audience of women by both message and media.
The Force of Nature campaign focused on 4 distinct efforts:
- to change the spotlight from only men in the outdoors
- to support diverse nonprofits and important outdoor initiatives
- to host more outdoor events geared toward women
- to update women’s outdoor clothing and gear sold at the store (Heller, 2017).
CHANGING MALE-DOMINATED CONTENT THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
“Who cares what you even look like? Let’s focus on what you’re doing.”
– Pam Grossman, Director of Visual Trends at Getty Images
The first and primary strategy that REI focused on was social engagement. The brand began posting photos of strong, rebellious women and their outdoor inspirations, as well as encouraged female followers to share their own personal experiences in Facebook comments or as their own posts including the hashtag #ForceOfNature. REI announced weekly themes for the hashtag and shared the chosen “winner stories” across their channels. On Instagram, there are over 362,099 posts tagged with #ForceOfNature. REI only has 3,678 Instagram posts, for perspective of reach.
Almost immediately, REI was met with criticism for not featuring women of all shapes and sizes in their imagery and not offering larger size options in their retail platforms. The team has responded tremendously, adding sections onto the Force of Nature landing page as well as promising and following through in 2018 with offering a larger selection of sizes in both brick and mortar and online stores with their own brands and partners (Parris, 2017).
LAUNCHING EVENTS MADE FOR WOMEN
“Let’s make outside the largest level playing field on earth.”
– REI Brand Statement
The goal was 1,000 events. At the end of 2017, REI almost tripled that and played host to 2,700 new events driven toward women such as in-store classes and adventure travel programs. Outessa hosted one (well, three) outdoor retreats and two festivals – and they are all on my bucket list.
STEWARDSHIP & OUTREACH + THE REACTION
“Choose brands that share your commitment to a level playing field.”
– REI Blog Contributor
Doing “good” is a core goal of many brands in the outdoor industry. REI pronounced that with the Force of Nature Fund, which awarded 26 nonprofits with grant money totaling a whopping $500,000. Along with partner projects, a grand total of $1 million dollars was funded by REI to support outdoor nonprofits and to inspire and empower women in the outdoors in 2017 (Parris, 2018).
With an effort to only feature women through this initiative came an additional pivot to include product development for more women’s gear and apparel, “since the launch of Force of Nature, our women’s business has outpaced our men’s. While this was never intended to be about sales, there is strong evidence that consumers align their values to their spending” (Swapp, 2017). It is stated that just in this time alone, sales in women’s apparel at REI has increased by 20%.
I’d say that’s a successful branding campaign! Hopefully it doesn’t end here.
REI Blog & PR References:
Heller, L. (2017, April 3). REI’s Force Of Nature Wants To Change The Game For Women Outdoors. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauraheller/2017/04/03/reis-force-of-nature-wants-to-change-the-game-for-women-outdoors/#6770cd143cdb
Parris, A. (2018, April 13). REI Announces Force of Nature Fund Recipients. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/blog/stewardship/force-of-nature-fund
Parris, A. (2017, September 20). REI Extended Sizing Update: More Sizes, More Women, Right Now. Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/blog/news/rei-extended-sizing-update-more-sizes-more-women-right-now
Pressner Kreuser, A. (2018, February 23). After Hitting Massive Revenue Numbers, REI Gave Nearly 70 Percent of Its Profits to the Outdoor Community. Here’s Why (and What You Can Learn). Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/amanda-pressner-kreuser/rei-hit-record-setting-revenue-by-shutting-its-doors-on-black-friday-heres-why-its-people-first-moves-paid-off.html
Stuart, R. (2018, February 6). Special Report: Where Have All The Skiers Gone? Retrieved from https://www.explore-mag.com/Special-Report-Where-Have-All-The-Skiers-Gone
Swapp, L. (2017, December 22). Force of Nature: This is Just the Beginning. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/blog/news/force-of-nature-this-is-just-the-beginning