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Patagonia’s reversible poem ad is a check on runaway Black Friday Cyber Monday spending

What started in 2011 with “Don’t Buy This Jacket” continues with a creative call for defiant climate action.

Patagonia’s reversible poem ad is a check on runaway Black Friday Cyber Monday spending
[Source Photo: iStock]
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Patagonia doesn’t want to hear any more apathetic excuses.

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It’s the Black Friday-Cyber Monday long weekend, the high holidays of our collective devotion to unchecked consumption. And the outdoor retailer is here to remind us that this is not the time to forget the existential fight in which we find ourselves.

Following a tradition started with Patagonia’s now-iconic 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” full-page ad in The New York Times, the brand once again went for one of its few paid media buys in traditional advertising, with another full-page newspaper ad.

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We’re all screwed

So don’t tell us that

We can imagine a healthy future

Because the reality is

It’s too late to fix the climate crisis

And we don’t trust anyone who says

We need to demand a livable planet

Because we don’t have a choice

(Now read this bottom up)

What on first read comes off as a fatalistic resignation, when read backwards becomes a defiant call to action. It’s an overall sentiment that appropriately embodies the outlook of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. While he told The L.A. Times as far back as 1994 that the plight of the earth amid climate change was “hopeless,” he remains unwaveringly committed to doing the hard work for the best possible outcome.

We live in a time of elaborate advertising across any and every media. The power here is in the ad’s creative simplicity. The reversible copy, using words alone to create two opposing ideas in one statement, grabs your attention by forcing you to reconcile your own battle between optimism and cynicism. It’s expressed in one of the most rudimentary forms of marketing we have left—a print ad! It’s the advertising equivalent of a perfectly cooked steak.

British domestic violence charity Refuge used a similar technique for Valentine’s Day in 2019, turning love poems into tragic accounts of abuse.

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The new ad is part of Patagonia’s broader “Buy Less, Demand More,” campaign around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which includes a more straightforward pitch for the brand, outlining just how it’s working to get to a more healthy future, and how we as consumers can help.

Despite its global cultural cachet, Patagonia doesn’t have a massive advertising budget, so it depends on its creativity to get the word out about its overall mission to save our home planet. It uses finely tuned words in unexpected ways, from “Don’t Buy This Jacket” and “The President Stole Your Land” to “Vote the assholes out.”

Here, its purpose is less about a blunt statement, more in the interpretation. The question now is which way you choose to read it.

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CORRECTION: This story previously referred to the poem as a palindrome, but turns out it’s not because it reads differently depending on the direction you read it. Apologies to palindrome purists everywhere.

About the author

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

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