On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I and many others were part of a movement. My actions were fairly simple: I went with my mother to the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, Maine to look for birds. We spent about an hour walking their well-maintained trails, marveling at the different ecosystems we passed, including meadow, thicket, forest, and marsh. As we walked, I took a few photos, uploading them to social media with the hashtag #OptOutside. I was not alone. As of November 30th, the hashtag had been used 37,000 times on Twitter and 270,000 times on Facebook.
REI, an outdoor activity outfitter, set off a Twitter-storm this year when they announced that all REI stores would be closed on Black Friday, encouraging everyone instead to #OptOutside. Turning from consumerism to exploration, thousands did just that, hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and taking advantage of many parks offering free admission throughout the day.
Now, buying holiday presents for loved ones is not inherently bad, and no one should be looked down on for participating in Black Friday. Still, the national emphasis on the importance of being outdoors and experiencing nature was as refreshing as it was widespread.
An analysis of #OptOutside by Sysomos also found that hiking and national parks were frequently associated with tweets about the REI hashtag. In fact, #FindYourPark, an ongoing effort by the National Park Service to help people find national parks close to them, was the fourth most common hashtag used in conjunction with #OptOutside. Across social media platforms there was a fairly even split between men and women using the hashtag, though on Facebook specifically nearly 190,000 women used it compared to 90,000 men.
Interestingly, people who chose to #OptOutside viewed it as a point of pride. Headlines around the country read: “Idahoans choose to #OptOutside on Black Friday,” “Northwesterners #OptOutside on Black Friday,” “East Tennesseans skip shopping, #OptOutside instead,” “Minnesotans #OptOutside on Black Friday.” REI’s campaign gave people the ability to showcase an aspect of their identity that they are proud of, whether that is a member of a state or local community, an outdoor enthusiast, or just someone who would rather not shop on Black Friday. In a blog by Charles Trevail, CEO at Omnicom’s C Space, on AdAge.com, he writes that: “Companies that truly “get” their customers share their customers’ fundamental values — whether that’s the importance of enjoying the outdoors like REI, or unleashing creativity like Converse.” The success of the campaign demonstrates how important it is to share pride, identity, and values with others.