Patagonia escalates activism with voting rights push before elections

Linda J. Dodson

Dive Brief:

  • Patagonia is implementing various measures to help employees and customers to vote in the upcoming presidential election, the company announced in a press release. The brand is closing its California headquarters, distribution center and all retail stores on Nov. 3; providing up to four days of paid time off for employees who volunteer as poll workers; and offering access to a photocopier for areas where ID copies are required for mail-in ballots.
  • The company is also recruiting poll workers with nonprofit partnerships to address local voting needs and will give grants, paid ads and other resources to organizations working to ensure November’s elections are accessible — particularly for groups working with Black, Indigenous and other communities of color whose voting rights historically have been suppressed, the company said.
  • This escalation of rhetoric ahead of the elections may lend greater credibility to Patagonia’s ongoing focus around protecting nature and direct forms of political activism.

Dive Insight:

Patagonia’s voting rights push continues the outdoor apparel brand’s history of political activism. In December 2017, the brand replaced its shopping site’s homepage with a black screen and the text “The President Stole Your Land” to drum up awareness for a large elimination of protected land and encourage people to take action on social media by tweeting their thoughts directly to President Donald Trump.

Its latest effort around ensuring accessible voting follows Patagonia’s inclusion of clothing tags that read “Vote the assholes out.” In an emailed statement to Marketing Dive, brand spokesperson Corley Kenna confirmed the tags were added to the 2020 men’s and women’s regenerative organic stand-up shorts in defiance of climate change deniers.

CEO Yvon Chouinard “has been saying ‘vote the assholes out’ for several years, and it refers to politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science, not because they aren’t aware of it, but because their pockets are lined with money from oil and gas interests,” Kenna told Marketing Dive via email.

While marketing around areas like sustainability and environmentalism are growing mainstream, few brands have directly challenged public officials in this manner, given the threat of backlash. But if brands like Patagonia know their audience well and operate in a tight enough niche, they may be able to generate significant online chatter and reinforce their core customer base, as Patagonia appears to be doing with its latest tag ploy.

Other brands, including Under Armour and Airbnb, have similarly launched civics initiatives by partnering with voting rights organizations and offering time off for employees to vote. Patagonia specifically called attention to the suppression of marginalized people’s voting rights, following Ben & Jerry’s in embracing anti-racist activism as a messaging tactic. Research from Edelman and Piplsay have found that a sizable share of consumers want brands to confront racism, suggesting that these riskier moves may resonate.

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