Just last summer, Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, visited the Woody Guthrie Archives at its new home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The archives had previously been located in New York City, and James had spent time there, too, a few years back while preparing to record the Guthrie tribute album New Multitudes, and that was an incredible opportunity, he reflects, but revisiting the Guthrie Archives in Tulsa not far from Okemah, Oklahoma, where Guthrie was born, was an unexpectedly moving experience. “In the middle of the new archives, they had this beautiful display with his original handwritten lyrics for ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ and a recording of him singing it. You could stand there and take it all in, and it was such a profound moment being in that part of the country and seeing those words on a page that he’d actually written and hearing his voice sing it,” James tells Co.Create. “It just brought me to tears.”
In the months after that visit, Guthrie’s iconic song kept coming up in various conversations, James says, though he didn’t necessarily think it was a song he would get a chance to record until The North Face recently asked if My Morning Jacket would be interested in performing the song for a commercial. James–as well as the rest of the band–eagerly accepted the gig. “It’s one of those songs like ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘Stand By Me’–it’s one of those classic, eternal songs,” James says, musing, “Maybe it is even the most eternal song when it comes to America.”
My Morning Jacket’s version of the poetic folk song is featured in a new spot for The North Face that depicts the brand’s ambassador athletes, including ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes, free solo climber Alex Honnold and skier/mountaineer Hilaree O’Neill, pursuing their passions in breathtaking locations ranging from the Death Valley National Park to Mount McKinley. (While the spot broke on YouTube October 27, it will debut on television November 9 during NBC Sunday Night Football and will continue to air through December on ESPN, USA Network, Comedy Central and other networks.)
It’s impossible to watch the stirring commercial, which is part of a larger, three-month long “Your Land”-themed campaign for The North Face, without vowing that you, too, are going to spend more time enjoying the spectacular outdoors. “That was our goal. Our whole mission is to inspire people to explore. It has been since we started the company more than 45 years ago,” says Aaron Carpenter, vice president of global marketing for The North Face.
But that was just half of The North Face’s goal with the big new spot, Carpenter points out, explaining that it was made for an initiative the brand has embarked on with the U.S. Department of Interior to support the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which employs young people and returning veterans to protect, restore and enhance public lands all across the country.
In fact, at the end of the spot viewers are directed to iTunes where they can download My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Half of each sale will benefit Conservation Service Corps, and My Morning Jacket is donating all of the artist proceeds to the cause. Meanwhile, The North Face is making a donation of $250,000.
The unique partnership between The North Face and the U.S. Department of Interior came about after Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, former CEO of outdoor retailer REI, lobbied brands to support the Conservation Service Corps while attending the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. The North Face happened to be creating a new campaign with advertising agency Mekanism at the time and had wanted to connect its creative to a philanthropic cause, Carpenter explains. The brand has been involved in conservation causes for decades, he points out, and has donated about $9 million to various groups, including Conservation Alliance, an industry group that gives to conservation organizations in North America. “Brands need to be giving back,” Carpenter insists, “and the whole idea here is that we’re protecting the places that we go out and love to play in.”
As for the rest of the “Your Land” campaign, which is the biggest in the brand’s history and aims to get people to reimagine the concept of exploration, The North Face will also whisk New Yorkers away on outdoor ventures the week of October 27 via a #SeeForYourself-branded taxi. When passengers get in to the car, they will be given the choice of being driven to their destination or going on a spontaneous adventure to one of three secret locations outside of the city where they will get to kayak, bike and embark on other adventures with professional athletes. One lucky winner will go on a much bigger adventure, Carpenter says.
The North Face has also worked with Outside magazine to create a list of 50 amazing places to explore in the U.S., including Deer Creek Patio, which is nestled in the Grand Canyon; the legendary Tuckerman’s Ravine located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; and New Buffalo Beach, a surfing spot on Lake Michigan. Readers of the magazine are being encouraged to take photos of themselves at these destinations and share them via social channels like Instagram using #seeforyourself.
And the brand has tricked-out an Airstream trailer and is sending it on a Never Stop Exploring Tour roadtrip to The North Face stores all across the country. People can watch sports videos in the trailer and check out artifacts, enjoy free coffee and snacks, and anyone who drops off clothing or footwear that can be recycled through The North Face’s Clothes the Loop program will get a voucher good for $10 off their next purchase.