Patagonia wants to ‘Vote the a**holes out’

Discussion
Photo: Patagonia
Sep 21, 2020

Patagonia, known for its environmental roots, added the message “Vote the a**holes out” to the back of label tags on some products as a statement against climate change.

In an interview with the Adventure Journal, Patagonia’s media team said the phrase was only used on a limited edition of shorts and explained as “having some fun in these dark days.” But its use drew major attention on social media and media outlets in the midst of election season.

Founder Yvon Chouinard has long used the phrase. Patagonia said in a media statement, “It refers to politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science, not because they aren’t aware of it, but because their pockets are lined with money from oil and gas interests.”

Patagonia followed the controversial tags with an email sent on Friday linking to its new microsite that likewise broadcast a “Vote Climate Deniers Out of Office” message. According to the Los Angeles Times, Patagonia this year will be making 22 “recommendations” for the 35 Senate seats available in November based on the candidates’ stances on climate change, public lands and environmental justice.

Patagonia has become increasingly involved in politics as the Trump administration has aggressively weakened federal environmental regulations. The company’s moves included suing the administration, endorsing senatorial candidates for the first time and leading the move of Outdoor Retailer, the outdoor industry’s largest show, out of Salt Lake City.

Like others, Patagonia is implementing measures to support voting in the upcoming presidential election, including closing its doors on Nov. 3 and for the first time and providing up to four days of paid time off for employees who volunteer as poll workers.

Most retailers and brands appear to be staying non-partisan in their get-out-the-vote pushes. Nike and Starbucks both referenced the racial injustice protests in calling out the importance of voting.

One partisan effort is the launch of the “Believe in Better” collection by 19 prominent American designers, including Vera Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, Victor Glemaud and Tory Burch, to support Joe Biden’s bid for president. It’s available at joebiden.com.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more risks than benefits to Patagonia’s move to elevate its political messaging amid the election cycle? What factors should determine whether a brand can take a stand in an election?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Patagonia will clearly appeal to the more politically motivated buyers in their base, but using the language chosen may also offend fringe buyers and even some of the base."
"A brand, as a private, non-governmental entity, should take whatever stance it wants in an election."
"Good move for Patagonia, although I cringe slightly as I, um, “ripen,” and wish for something more inclusive and less, well, hostile, in an effort to bring us together (ha!)."

Join the Discussion!

41 Comments on "Patagonia wants to ‘Vote the a**holes out’"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

For Patagonia, the message and audience are well suited, and so this initiative is very consistent with their brand. However there is significant downside in making too strong political statements when part of the market won’t agree. I admire companies like Patagonia who stand up for what they believe in, but in general politics and retail are not a good mix. Ultimately this comes down to the beliefs of management – they are responsible for the direction and results.

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

I completely agree with you, Mark. Patagonia’s loyal customers will stick around if they have the same beliefs and the brand might attract new customers who admire brands taking strong stands as well. It is a risky move and takes guts but such brands know what they are getting into.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Many consider companies that want to protect the environment as noble businesses. Some call them (derisively) “tree huggers.” Everyone has an opinion. Political issues should be decided by the electorate, not by businesses. Some think that businesses should not be allowed to contribute to political campaigns and some welcome the contributions. It would be a lot simpler if Patagonia, REI, and so many others sang the praises of outdoor activities and respect for ecology without turning the message into a political one.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I believe businesses should not be allowed to contribute or lobby for the government to reap benefits for them. (Note, if I am a CEO, I will take every advantage allowed.) The fact is businesses are not citizens. Their objectives and desires are not in line with the citizenry. They would and should chose actions and activities that are good for them and not good for the people or the country. (No, companies are not patriots.) We should have listened more seriously to Eisenhower’s farewell address.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

We agree. By the way, I don’t remember seeing so many thumbs down on a single discussion topic.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Patagonia understands its customer base and is staying true to its brand. I don’t see a downside.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

Patagonia knows their core customer and this messaging will have little, if any, downside to the brand. The company is bold, courageous and unapologetic.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
1 year 7 months ago

There is a fine line between retail and politics. While this probably works for Patagonia, I don’t see Walmart, or Kroger, or Nordstrom doing this and getting away with it with the public. It is a good way to possibly drive away a large chunk of your customer base. Regardless, if you are going to do it, you can’t flip flop – you have to stand by it 1000 percent.

Ben Ball
Guest

In any campaign — marketing or political — there is always a choice between messaging that galvanizes the base but that may put off buyers/voters who are more neutral on an issue. In this case Patagonia will clearly appeal to the more politically motivated buyers in their base, but using the language chosen may also offend fringe buyers and even some of the base. Net, negative.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Given Patagonia’s customer base, I don’t think this will cause any damage. In general, corporations have a right to campaign and support whatever political causes they wish – just as individuals do. However for those with a diverse range of customers the best policy is to steer away from becoming overtly party-political as it risks offending one group or the other.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest

Patagonia knows their customer base. They are not going to do something that would be business suicide.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Brands serve their core constituency. That’s why these kind of campaigns, while they look too risky at times, work because they are in line with the brand voice. The campaign does not alienate their core consumer base, is safe and, if it galvanizes them, is a win. On that count, this one by Patagonia is a win.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I love the position that Yvon Chouinard takes when it comes to sustainably sourced apparel and environmental issues. I love that he’s an activist. I support companies taking a stand on issues they believe in and that align with their core values.

Will this message resonate with Patagonia’s core customer? Maybe, probably, I think so. That said, a message like this is divisive. It doesn’t contribute to respectful debate. It’s going to alienate some segment of their customer base, and it makes Patagonia and their position a target. Sadly the target won’t be the merits of their position, it will be wording of this message. I don’t think that will do much to further the position they support.

Stephen Rector
Guest

Patagonia knows their customer base as well as the best retailers in the world do. This is specifically targeted to their customers while also getting a little buzz in the media. However other brands should tread lightly with this type of overt message – it’s not for everyone.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Although I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, it is a risky one to place on their products. Time will tell whether it resonates among their most active shoppers.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Definitely more benefits. While it’s a gross (and incorrect) generalization to say that all outdoorsmen (and women) are liberal, it does reflect the company’s values.

Let’s not forget that Hobby Lobby put up a pro-Trump display which was reported by Newsweek as being spotted at one of its stores. A photo of a display reading “USA vote Trump” in decorative letters was shared in a tweet that has now gone viral.

Let’s say that it’s awful that everything, including the wearing of masks, has been politicized and weaponized — but truth be told, I haven’t taken a meeting with Hobby Lobby in seven years, so I guess we do many things based on our values. And I am happy to shop at Patagonia, even though I am not remotely an outdoorswoman. Just as the only thing I can do about Hobby Lobby is buy elsewhere and not give them any free press.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Spot-on, Paula.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is a dangerous game. But these guys know their customers and the action will likely endear them more to their most loyal customers.

The noise generated by the “Vote the a**holes out” message may even bring in some like-minded customers who never thought of Patagonia on a regular basis.

But net/net, I would advise any company to tread lightly in this area.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
1 year 7 months ago

I’d say there are few retailers other than Patagonia who are so consistently known for their position on certain issues that can manage to pull off something as brazen as this and not see a negative impact. Certainly would not expect to see a Walmart, Target, or Kohl’s do this.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

As I said to the Washington Post about the Colin Kaepernick ad a couple years ago, “This is completely in line with who Nike is and what they stand for. That authenticity resonated and will continue to resonate with their customers.” Frankly, who couldn’t agree with this sentiment no matter what side you’re on? There’s no controversy here. Playing it safe never makes you money.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
1 year 7 months ago

Well said, Bob! Brands like Patagonia who take such positions are not looking to be everyone’s favorite brand. They know their customer segment and that’s who they are trying to appeal to on a consistent basis.

Tony Orlando
Guest
Patagonia is going after the conservatives, and their customer base embraces it. Climate change enthusiasts think we can control the earth’s climate, by eliminating fossil fuels. and the green energy world will be the way to make things better, and it is simply a pipe dream. They can promote any message they want, but my money isn’t heading their way, and to think that we can control the earth’s climate is absurd, as hot and cold decades have been around since the earth was formed. Remember the predictions in the 1970s that we would have another Ice Age in 30 years? Al Gore predicted that our coastlines would be under water, and islands would vanish, because of global warming. Now we have the election cycle which brings out the real crazies with the predictions of doom if we don’t change our way of life. Yeah OK. Corporations can make their political message any way they want, and those who choose to embrace it, so be it, as opinions only matter to those who buy into… Read more »
Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

It is a mistake for Patagonia to elevate their political messaging to such an extent as to place this type of messaging on their products. The climate change issue divides the electorate and presenting this strong message may alienate potential customers. It may help sales in the short run, but damage potential sales in the long run. Brands can take positions in an election, but to have the message on the product itself presents a higher risk.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Let me be bold here. I see no risks other than offending the very, very religious through the use of a word they might find offensive. How is it risky to stay aggressively on-brand, especially when your target audience are Millennials and Gen-Zers who demand authenticity and values? Brands need to be consistent with their values. In Patagonia’s case that would mean they should endorse pro-environmental Conservatives (if there are any) and oppose anti-environmental Progressives (again, assuming they could find one). In this case they would be supporting a cause, not a party.

Ben Ball
Guest

Brands need to be consistent with their values.
Heartily agreed!

Brands need to speak out politically and publicly.
Not so much…

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Ben, let me take an uncharacteristic and rare opportunity to disagree with you a bit here. This stance isn’t really “Patagonia’s stance.” It’s really just one more in a series of actions consistent with Yvon Chouinard’s well-documented personal position before, and when he founded, “the brand.” He has been an outdoor enthusiast and Sierra Club member since he was a kid. He’s a world class climber who founded the company — in part — as a resource for environmental activists. And, remember, he was into this stuff in the 1970s. He’s been donating 1% of sales or 10% of profits (whichever is greater) to activist causes since the mid-1980s. He’s the real deal and his “brand” is just an extension of his personal passion and ethics. So, this isn’t as much a case of a corporation taking a position as it is a case of a dedicated individual using a corporation to increase his impact on behalf of a cause he has believed in his entire life.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Exactly Ryan, we’re talking about one specific brand who has always been focused on the environment. Consistency helps here.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Absolutely Bob. It is very unique in that the company’s founder has passionately held a set of core beliefs almost his entire life, and certainly his entire adult life. Anyone familiar with him knows exactly where he — and the brand he built — stand. And, yes, consistency helps … a lot.

Gregory Osborne
Guest

A brand, as a private, non-governmental entity, should take whatever stance it wants in an election. Ultimately it may face backlash in the market, but in Patagonia’s case its efforts have clearly garnered customer loyalty. Take its “Don’t Buy This” ad from Black Friday a few years ago (Patagonia purchased two pages in the New York Times, asking people not to buy their most popular jacket if they don’t need it): sales skyrocketed. In this case, as a company whose future depends on recreation–some involving snow sports–making a stand against climate change is brilliant.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

A brand showing personality is not necessarily a bad thing. And there are many Patagonia fans who will mightily approve of the sentiment.

But I worry about Patagonia believing too much in their own claims about their customers. I do not think that such overt politics are great for them with their aggressive outdoors customers. I spent quite a bit of time backpacking and adventure hiking in my youth and found the real enthusiasts are committed to the outdoors but cross a very wide range of political backgrounds.

Where this might work is with the casual Patagonia buyers who are more likely in a cultural world which will appreciate the message.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Well since there’s no context around the short tag line, everyone can believe that the phrase is in their political interest. I think it will be a small subset of readers who will know and understand that it relates to Patagonia’s environmental stance. So everyone can be happy that Patagonia is on their side.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

Brands have to stand for something or they won´t appeal to anyone. I think Patagonia knows what they are doing even if personally I would not get my company involved in politics. Keeping their company involved with environmental issues and promoting causes that get customers, employees, and others to think about the serious nature of our elections may be the ultimate goal, but this message may be too direct.

Those customers already loyal to Patagonia will probably revel in this message and that may be a large enough customer base to keep the brand healthy. But for most brands trying to find their voice and align with customers, politics is just too dangerous an arena.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
1 year 7 months ago

Patagonia has a history of being bold and taking a stand on environmental issues — their customers know this and likely drives their appreciation of the brand. While this is a bold statement to make, it is on-brand for them and will likely have little negative impact overall. Even if they receive some bad press coverage over this, it’s more likely to energize their customer base and might even attract new customers who share their ideology.

The broader question is to what extent should retailers, brands, and businesses, in general, participate in an election process. Businesses are not citizens so too many it is questionable when they contribute financially to a campaign or government lobbying efforts — their motivations cannot be assumed to be altruistic as that may not align to shareholder value. While on-brand values are one aspect, it’s not the only one to consider.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

It seems almost anything and everything is a political platform today. Political fatigue is real and exhausting, consumers being lectured to by anyone with a platform. Consider the Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ginsberg friendship. Justice Scalia “I attack ideas, I don’t attack people — and some very good people have some very bad ideas.” Labeling “some” people as assholes is neither an uplifting nor inspiring message nor a fresh perspective communicated to change the hearts and minds of those Patagonia is seeking to influence.

FrankKochenash
Guest

They used profanity in their public marketing. Moreover, it was profanity targeted at a nonspecific group of people. That’s not good. Leading brands and leading citizens should behave better.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Good move for Patagonia, although I cringe slightly as I, um, “ripen,” and wish for something more inclusive and less, well, hostile, in an effort to bring us together (ha!).
In my 50s: Vote the a**holes out.
In my 60s: Vote the jerks out.
In my 70s: Vote green. (but quietly wonder if Vote the a**holes out is a better choice.)

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Well said, my friend, as always.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Given Patagonia’s core customer and the actions of the last 4 years in terms of negative legislation bomb hits on their beliefs (drilling in parks, roll backs of 50+ E laws, etc), this is going to REALLY fly. Also, this falls under the 21st Century marketing 101 strategy of “fake controversy,” where, you do something like this and it makes the viral spin world of millions of views start on fire. All in all, really good move … for them.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I see absolutely nothing — let me emphasize NOTHING — positive in this. Whether there is or isn’t an advantage in retailers (or companies in general) getting involved in politics is open to debate (as we’ve done here … repeatedly) but this is certainly the wrong approach. I sure as hell don’t need Patagonia to tell me how to vote.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

If you don’t take some risk you will never get any reward. I personally do not agree with all of the things that Patagonia is advocating for, but I like the fact that they are taking a stand upon the things they think are important. I would shop them just because I know what they stand for.

tsdhyun
Guest

Patagonia is either brilliant or doesn’t give a s**t. Maybe both. But, for the sake of argument, let’s call them brilliant. In a way, they’re like Trump (sorry Yvon). They know what their base loves, and they give to them in buckets. But, if they’re smarter then Trump and want to reach out past their base, why not give those bottom-of-mountain types, who happen to despise the assholes, permission to consider Patagonia? How cool is that? Consumers are exercising “conscious consumption” and aligning with brands that speak to their ideology. Why not make it easier for them?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Patagonia will clearly appeal to the more politically motivated buyers in their base, but using the language chosen may also offend fringe buyers and even some of the base."
"A brand, as a private, non-governmental entity, should take whatever stance it wants in an election."
"Good move for Patagonia, although I cringe slightly as I, um, “ripen,” and wish for something more inclusive and less, well, hostile, in an effort to bring us together (ha!)."

Take Our Instant Poll

Do you see more positives or negatives in Patagonia’s move to elevate its political messaging amid the election cycle?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...