Last Friday, The North Face became the first major brand to join an advertising boycott of Facebook.
The move was in solidarity with civil rights organizations like the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, as well as Color of Change, Free Press, Common Sense, and Sleeping Giants, which launched the #StopHateForProfit campaign aimed at holding Facebook accountable for how it enables and benefits from racism and misinformation.
In a statement, Color of Change president Rashad Robinson said, “We have been continually disappointed and stunned by Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to protecting white supremacy, voter suppression, and outright lies on Facebook. A key way for major corporations to demand racial justice is to withhold their dollars until Facebook becomes more responsible and accountable to Black communities on the platform.”
— The North Face (@thenorthface) June 19, 2020
Soon after The North Face voiced its support, both Patagonia and REI joined the boycott for the month of July. Patagonia’s head of marketing Cory Bayers wrote in a statement, “For too long, Facebook has failed to take sufficient steps to stop the spread of hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform. From secure elections to a global pandemic to racial justice, the stakes are too high to sit back and let the company continue to be complicit in spreading disinformation and fomenting fear and hatred. As companies across the country work hard to ensure that Americans have access to free and fair elections this fall, we can’t stand by and contribute resources to companies that contribute to the problem.”
One of the clichés of modern business and marketing is that brands will too often say all the right things—whether it’s about racial and gender equality, pride month, climate change, International Women’s Day, and on and on—but all too often it remains far more advertising bluster than measurable action.
The North Face’s global VP of marketing and product Steve Lesnard says the outdoor industry has a role to play in supporting the Black community and combating systemic racism.
“The outdoor industry as a whole has a lot of work to do, but I believe many of our peers share similar values, and it has been great to see companies such as REI, Patagonia, and Arcteryx also pledging to #StopHateforProfit by halting their advertising spend with Facebook,” Lesnard tells Fast Company. “The outdoor industry must understand the urgency when it comes to acting on social issues that affect people, planet, and the places we all love to play, and we want to act as leaders by addressing and impacting change.”
Over the last few years, it’s been outdoor brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and REI that have actually led the charge in speaking out on controversial issues, taking a stand, and translating that into action. There are a lot more companies and brands in our culture that reach more consumers, but when it comes to responsible business, this is where to find optimism for the future.
Outdoor brands are first to climb the summit
“The outdoor brands and retailers have a heritage of speaking out on social issues, starting with conservation and the environment,” NPD Group’s VP and senior industry advisor of sports Matt Powell told AdAge. “It is no surprise to see them take a leadership role in Facebook hate speech and disinformation.”
Outdoor brand activism is understandably primarily focused on just that—the outdoors—where these companies’ products are created for and being used. Their customer base is passionate about wilderness, the mountains, the ocean, the rivers, the forests. So it makes sense that these companies have long been advocating for action on climate change and environmental responsibility.
That environmental conscience has been there since such notions were deemed radical and “crunchy.” Much of the mainstream has caught up, at least in terms of putting some effort into “causing the least amount of harm possible,” as Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard told me last year.
Before brands like Banana Republic and Gucci were using digital-economy consignment services like CaaStle and thredUp, Patagonia had started Worn Wear. These companies promulgated adaptive reuse and building to last and that too has become more common. Now the vanguard is promoting democracy and pushing back against Facebook.