What Patagonia Learned So Far From Mixing Content Strategy And Activism

Campaigns and Advocacy Director Hans Cole talks about the new doc Jumbo Wild, how the New Localism strategy is evolving, and more.


On October 6, Patagonia unveiled its newest documentary Jumbo Wild, created with Sweetgrass Productions to shine a spotlight on the 24-year fight to save British Columbia’s iconic Jumbo Valley from resort development. Since then, the full-length film has embarked on a North American tour that will take it from B.C. to Boston and back, and the company also released an eight-minute short version online to spark interest far beyond the Jumbo Valley’s borders.


Patagonia’s Campaigns and Advocacy Director Hans Cole says more than 3,000 people had come out to nine scheduled Jumbo Wild screenings in its first week. Every single tour stop was sold out, and a few were forced to add a second screening to accommodate the people stuck outside after the first one was full.

This is just the latest in the brand’s barely year-old New Localism content campaign that’s been creatively combining treehugger ideals with adrenaline-junkie action. It started with the film, DamNation, aimed at removing deadbeat dams throughout the United States, continued with The Fisherman’s Son on activist and big wave surfer Ramon Navarro, and extended to smaller projects like Mile For Mile and #CrudeAwakening.

In the wake of Jumbo Wild‘s release, we asked Cole what lessons the brand has learned so far from mixing content strategy and activism, and how he sees the New Localism evolving.

Creatively Agile, Locally Connected

On October 3, more than 300 people joined the “Free The Snake Flotilla,” a paddle protest on the Lower Snake River for dam removal. Patagonia was there with a camera and created a short video, a grassroots follow-up to its recent short doc Free The Snake that took the message of DamNation and focused on four specific dams along the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest.

The protest was a lot like another back in August, in which the brand reacted quickly to create a piece of content to shine a light on activism in action. “Crude Awakening,” in partnership with The Surfrider Foundation and other local groups, was a flotilla of paddlers on kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and surf boards five miles off the California coast near Santa Barbara and alongside an oil platform, to raise awareness of impending state legislation on offshore drilling, and condemn a May 19 oil spill that dumped more than 140,000 gallons of crude onto beaches near Refugio State Park, close to Patagonia’s own headquarters.


Cole says the New Localism strategy requires the brand to be nimble, and has fostered full collaboration across all departments. “There’s someone like me, with people from our marketing team who have expertise in storytelling, and our executives, we put heads together, react to what’s going on and think about a strategy that’s going to get our employees involved, but also our customers and the wider community,” says Cole. “The New Localism model, where we look at film and the voices of local activists and athletes, our people and community, has really enabled us to have a good technique for getting active around issues and nimble in a different sort of way.”

The brand worked on DamNation for three years, Jumbo Wild was a nine to 12 month production, while “Crude Awakening” was less than two weeks. “So the New Localism has become a really flexible approach for us to get active around issues we care about,” says Cole.

Its ability to get credibly involved is tied to the brand’s connection to grassroots organizations from around the world–it helped fund more than 700 in the last year alone. On Jumbo Wild, for example, the brand worked in collaboration with local group Wildsight.

Tapping Into Activist Athletes

Cole says that while we’re all used to seeing high-energy ski or surf films, showcasing the best of these sports in exotic and amazing locations, the brand is trying to flip that on its head a bit by not only getting people excited about a place or a sport, but help them understand these places are often threatened and need to be protected. And through the New Localism they’ve found that having an athlete use their own voice–like skier Leah Evans in Jumbo Wild, who grew up in that region–is a powerful thing that opens people’s eyes, and that’s been evident in the response.

“Through the course of DamNation, as it was launched, we really saw that having the people in the film–those voices aren’t characters they’re real people–the activists and athletes participating in screenings, and continuing being involved in the issue beyond appearing in the film, was really powerful and effective,” says Cole.


In the short doc Mile For Mile, ultrarunners Krissy Moehl, Jeff Browning, and Luke Nelson run 106 miles through the newly opened Patagonia Park in Chile, to celebrate and highlight Conservacion Patagonica’s efforts to re-wild and protect it. To help promote the film, Moehl, Browning and Nelson started doing events at Patagonia stores where they’d host a run, go out running with 30 people, then come back and watch the film. “By the end of that, going on a run with an inspiring athlete, then seeing this film about this inspiring place, you’re motivated to get engaged and involved,” says Cole. “So again, having ambassadors and athletes that are so hungry to continue the dialogue is so very effective. With Jumbo Wild, Leah Evans is on tour with the film. She’s at screenings, speaking on panels, using her social media and her network, and what we’ve really learned how these voices can really reach out beyond the films to really connect with people even more.”

Going International

As the number of New Localism films and projects add up, Cole says the brand is seeing its impact around the world from its international outposts.

“We’ve tried to do these projects in diverse geographic locations, but we haven’t yet had a film focusing on Europe, for example,” says Cole. “Recently at our global sales meeting, folks from our European offices are here, hungry and excited to do something with the New Localism for their regions and the European audience. The same goes for Japan. We’ve got a very strong business there, and our Japanese team is really wanting to do more with this strategy.”

Patagonia’s European team has started working on dam removal advocacy in Europe, looking to connect and support a campaign in the Balkans called Save the Blue Heart of Europe, which is a fight to stop 2,000 dams proposed for development in Eastern Europe. Similarly in Japan, there are some local dam projects the brand’s Japanese team has been involved in, outspoken about, and aiming to create content around.

Cole says the goal is to start organically scaling out the idea of the New Localism through the company. Another place where that is happening is the brand’s athlete ambassador team.


“The fact this is really focused on the voice of athletes and our athletes ambassadors, as we’ve had folks like Leah, the runners in Mile For Mile, and Ramon Navarro, the rest of our team and athletes have seen these and have been clamoring to get involved in this content concept,” says Cole. “We’ve had a flood of project proposals come in from our team, and that’s exciting. Our ambassador team is unique in that they’re already involved in local activism efforts on their own, but to see them respond in this way and get even more excited to get connected to this part of our company mission, is really great.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.