In the pantheon of socially and politically active brands, no one ever needs to wonder where outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia stands on many different issues.
The brand is front-and-center about issues its leaders believe to be important, and they have a history of ambivalence toward criticism of their strong socio-political stands.
The company’s latest move has people talking. Critics and consumers are asking if Patagonia has finally gone too far, while some folks are wondering if they still haven’t gone far enough.
The PR move that prompted this ongoing debate began when Patagonia started selling clothing items with a unique label, which reads: “vote the a-holes out.”
When photos of the tags started showing up on social media, one of consumers’ initial reactions was to assume they were fake. Patagonia was not about to let that happen. They wanted to send a clear message, and they wanted to own it.
Company spokesperson Tessa Byars made a media statement vouching for the authenticity of the tags and the message: “The tags are real… They were added to our 2020 Men’s and Women’s Regenerative Organic Stand-Up Shorts because we have been standing up to climate deniers for almost as long as we’ve been making those shorts…”
When asked which “a-holes” should be voted out, Byars told the press that Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been saying “Vote the a-holes out!” for many years, specifically referring not to any political party but to anyone in political office that “ignores science” or “disregards” climate change.
That statement answered what has been a raging debate on social media around the campaign. Users assumed the message was meant for the current administration, specifically creating ongoing arguments about its intended target. Some tried to instigate consumer “crowd response” either in support or in opposition to the message.
So, Patagonia clarified. The message is not about any specific administration. It was focused on a specific issue that remains a political hot button across the world. This is a line in the sand Patagonia has drawn before, so it’s no surprise that the company is doubling down using its market presence to increase awareness and speak out.
Here, the consumer PR lesson is that, especially when doing something that could create confusion or misunderstanding, be ready with a clarifying message when the questions come.
Patagonia raised eyebrows, and many consumers jumped to conclusions, but in its response, the brand reminded everyone exactly what they’re all about.
So, while the headlines were all about the sentence printed in the clothes, the end goal of reminding consumers what mattered to the brand was realized when the company responded to the furor with a clear, concise, topical message.