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The brains behind Outdoor Research's viral GQ parody

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Ranging from a parody of a GQ fashion spread to #sheadventures, Outdoor Research has taken an innovative approach to social media and marketing campaigns.

Christian Folk // Photo Curtesy

Last September, Outdoor Research lit up the industry’s collective social media feeds with a spot-on parody of a recent GQ fashion spread. Instead of the original’s images of men climbing at Joshua Tree in $800 sweaters while their female friends looked on, Outdoor Research’s shot-for-shot version showcased three female climbers and their half-naked male cheering squad. Folk, who has been with Outdoor Research for nearly 10 years, was one of the masterminds behind that spoof—which he estimates got “somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million impressions”—as well as several other grassroots marketing campaigns.

1. How did that GQ parody come together? 

The GQ article started showing up in everyone’s social feeds. The comments were pretty consistent as far as how women were depicted as accessories to men climbing. It is a men’s magazine, but I thought men and women would be interested in seeing strong women represented in climbing. Everyone agreed there was something to parody.

All the lifestyle stuff around the climbing [in the GQ shoot] was fine. But it quickly turned into this gal getting hosed down, pretty much naked. And a shot of these two women sitting on a bench in a really awkward position. It was those two shots—had those not been included, I don’t think it would have been satirize-able. But in those two images, if you were to flip the script on who the subject is, it shows the ridiculousness of it (see below). Our parody was making a statement for sure: Hey, women aren’t cute friends who come along to watch dudes climb. We don’t make women’s product for that.

Photo: Elise Giordano
Photo: Elise Giordano

2. Tell us more about another one of Outdoor Research’s grassroots marketing campaigns, #sheadventures.

It started out as a hashtag for Instagram and became more of a platform. Former Grassroots Marketing Coordinator Ashley Gateless [now at Miir] started it, then expanded the idea that it could become a brand platform for how we talk to women through marketing. We could integrate #sheadventures through focus groups, events, and scholarship contests. It’s giving women a strong platform to showcase women’s achievement.

Right now we’re working through a brand refresh. You’ll start seeing more marketing coming out that speaks to the company’s values. What we’re doing on the women’s side is just one way to do that. Another thing we value is opportunity, particularly when we’re working with nonprofit partners. We look for organizations that provide opportunities to get people outside.

3. Why are values-based campaigns like this important for your bottom line?

With things like #sheadventures, we have a women’s business that we want to support. We’re a business, so we need to sell product, but we need to do so in a way that’s authentic to what the brand is. If they understand what your values are as an organization, consumers are more apt to have an affinity for that brand. Patagonia has proven that again and again: They are the shining example of that emotional marketing. These campaigns aren’t meant to drive revenue per se, but by telling these interesting stories or showcasing our brand values, in the long run those are things that will pay off.

4. What role do brands have in taking a stance on social or political issues?

More and more, we know that consumers are looking to vote with their dollars. They want to make sure that brands they’re buying have values that align with their values. Whether it’s a race issue, a gender issue, a sexuality issue, whatever issue, I think companies are being tasked more with taking a stance.

You can’t please all people all the time, and you do need to speak up for issues that you believe in as a company. Not only because consumers are demanding it, but because it’s the right thing to do. As companies, we have a huge voice, and it’s a travesty for that voice to be silent—especially on issues that affect our industry. It would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we weren’t involved in access issues, for example.

5. What does this “brand refresh” mean for your marketing going forward?

Last October, we launched three new videos on our Facebook page that have nothing to do with product, really. They’re lighthearted pokes at things we all do [such as missing a Sasquatch because you’re too busy tweeting]. That’s one example of how fun is a core value for Outdoor Research. We were very product-driven in marketing, but I think we’ll start to see more brand marketing.

—Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

This article was originally published on p. 60 of the Day 2 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2017.